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View Full Version : What does Pagan Mean and where does it come from



Xois
July 12th, 2001, 11:37 AM
Ok, I am making this post becuase I was scanning the satinist thread and several people were (i beg your pardon) wrong about the etymology of the word, Pagan.

Keep in mind that words CHANGE over time, and what Pagan means now, is not what it has always meant. I am posting this becuase (being the know-it-all that I am as this post will attest too...or you can ask EasternPriest ;) ) I have had to eat crow on this topic.

*Pulls open the OED*

Myth: Pagan means person who was a farmer / worshiped old gods / lived on the countryside


My oed still has the "rustic/villager" eytmology, but recent research indicates that this was incorrect (My oed is from1988)

But here is the definitions from it

1. One of a nation or community which does not hold the true religion, or does not worhip the true god (often used to refere to jews and Moslems as well)

2. a person of heathenish character or habits, or one who holds a position analogous to that of a heathen in relation to a Christian society

3. Not belonging to a nation or community that acknowledges the true God; worshipping idols; heathen

Heathen's etymology is unknown. Some believe it comes from Hearth, but there is no conclusive proof of that.

This is an excerpt from Huttons Book "Triumph of the Moon"

He talks about the above difinition and then says:

In 1986, however, the oxford-based historian Robin Lane Fox reminded colleagues that this usage had never actually been proved and that the term had more probably been emplyed in a different sense in which it was attested in the Roman world, of a civilian; in this case a person not enrolled in the Christian army of God. A few years later a French academic, Pieere Chuvin [...]proposed instead that it simply denoted those who preferred the faith of the pagus, the local unit of government.

P4

In either case, the people who lived on the countryside would NEVER have used the word to refere to themselves.

Pagan means not in the Big Three -- what it means to us is more than just not part of the big three (christian, jewish, moslem) -- though by default it means that too...

I am learning so much about history, its great...i highly recommend Huttons book

It was not a word used befor christanity.

Cheers
Xois

*Pagan and Proud*

Mairwen
July 12th, 2001, 12:08 PM
Well, "witch" wasn't used before the Inquisition, either, but that's another argument. Thanks Xois! :D

Draedon
July 12th, 2001, 12:09 PM
It is my understanding that the word pagan comes from the Latin word 'paganus' meaning country-dweller, and which was in use long before Christianity. However, the term 'pagan' is relatively new. Obviously pagans (then and now) do not use the word to describe themselves. Anyone who calls themselves pagan is likely to be meaning neo-pagan. Remember that there are still paleo-pagan communities in tribal areas of the world, and neo-paganism is very different. We tend to forget that.

The modern word pagan could have come from paganus (country-dweller), pagus (local unti of government, according to Xois), or anywhere else. What matters is how we understand and use the word now.

From the alt.pagan FAQ:

Paleo-paganism: the standard of paganism, a pagan culture which has not been disrupted by 'civilisation' by another culture - Australian Bushmen modern (who are probably becoming meso-pagans), ancient Celtic religion (Druidism), the religions of the pre-patriarchal cultures of Old Europe, Norse religion, pre-Columbian Native American religions, etc.

Civilo-paganism: the religions of 'civilised' communities which evolved in paleo-pagan cultures - Classical Greco-Roman religion, Egyptian religion, Middle-Eastern paganism, Aztec religion, etc.

Meso-paganism: a group, which may or may not still constitute a separate culture, which has been influenced by a conquering culture, but has been able to maintain an independence of religious practice - many Native American nations, etc.

Syncreto-paganism: similar to meso-pagan, but having had to submerge itself into the dominant culture, and adopt the external practices and symbols of the other religion - the various Afro-diasporic traditions (Voudoun, Santeria, etc), Culdee Christianity, etc.

Neo-paganism: attempts of modern people to reconnect with nature, using imagery and forms from other types of pagans, but adjusting them to the needs of modern people:

Wicca - in all its many forms, neo-Shamanism, neo-Druidism, Asatru and other forms of Norse neo-paganism, neo-Native American practices, the range of things labeled "Women's Spirituality", the Sabaean Religious Order, Church of All Worlds, Discordianism, Radical Faeries and other "Men's Spirituality" movements, certain people within Thelema and hedonistic Satanism, some of eco-feminism, and last, but not least, Paganism.

Xois
July 12th, 2001, 12:12 PM
It is my understanding that the word pagan comes from the Latin word 'paganus' meaning country-dweller

Right, as I understood it until about 2 years ago, this was the common assumption. But the research is changing...

I agree with you however, that it is how we define ourselves now that is important...


We do not have the right to take that label away from the tribal peoples to whom it is more accurately applied

of course this classification was applied by the Christian Missionaries...Essentially the meaning, as they understood it, was the same. To them, is meant not of the Big three and worshipers of Idols... It occures to me that WE as a group apply to this definition as well, though I would rather reclaim the word...I don't think Tribal peoples would voluenteer to call themselves Pagan..they (like us) have their own names for themselves..


the religions of the pre-patriarchal cultures of Old Europe, Norse religion, pre-Columbian Native American religions, etc

There is very little evidence that there ever existed pre-patriarchal cultures in Old Europe. The assumption that there were Goddess Worshipping cultures before christanity is slim at best.

Cheers
Xois

Draedon
July 12th, 2001, 12:25 PM
Originally posted by Xois
There is very little evidence that there ever existed pre-patriarchal cultures in Old Europe. The assumption that there were Goddess Worshipping cultures before christanity is slim at best.

Middle Earth was a land of tribal warfare between hunter-gatherer tribes, so generally the important Gods were of the Warrior and Hunter archetypes. However, there would still have been sex and subsequently child-birth, which we can assume were identified by Maiden and Mother achetype Goddesses.

Xois
July 12th, 2001, 12:44 PM
middle earth? Tolkein?

yes, assumed...but there is no evidence...

Draedon
July 12th, 2001, 01:47 PM
Originally posted by Xois
middle earth? Tolkein?

yes, assumed...but there is no evidence...

There's no evidence either way, so that doesn't support either argument. On what basis do you assume that there was no Goddess worship?

Middle Earth = Europe

Myst
July 12th, 2001, 02:05 PM
If you're looking at the historical meanings you might try posting this in The History section of the forum, you might get more interested people responding...

Just an idea, not meant to offend :)

Xois
July 12th, 2001, 02:53 PM
There's no evidence either way, so that doesn't support either argument. On what basis do you assume that there was no Goddess worship?

I am only going on current research. There is plenty of evidence that there was religion, pantheism and the like, but no evidence that there was goddess worship (in the monotheistic sense)...

If there ancient peoples left tons of evidence of their religions, what reason would can you come up with that there is no evidence of Goddess worship? What I am saying is, if there was no evidence of Gods worship than I would say, yes ok...no evidence, we can only speculate...But it seems rather odd that they would leave out artifacts of goddess worship.

This is simply current scholarship...I am not making this up...

Xois
July 12th, 2001, 02:54 PM
Willow, who can I ask to move this thread to the history forum...that is a good idea!

Kaylara
July 12th, 2001, 03:05 PM
Too late... I already did it!
;)

Kaylara

Xois
July 12th, 2001, 03:37 PM
Thanks...I didn't even know we had a history forum LOL:D

Myst
July 30th, 2001, 05:30 AM
On the "no Goddess worship" question, ancient stone Goddess figurines have been found among (assumed) ritual items as well as among many dwellings of various groups (which presumably means this woman figure was a prominent figure in that time, and thus probably a Goddess)..

This reminds me of my favourite novel serious, which is by Jean Auel, and is called Earth's Children I think (not sure). It includes "Clan of the Cave Bear" through "Valley of Horses", "The Mammoth Hungers", and "Plains of Passage".

dionysus
February 10th, 2004, 10:14 PM
Ok, I am making this post becuase I was scanning the satinist thread and several people were (i beg your pardon) wrong about the etymology of the word, Pagan.

Keep in mind that words CHANGE over time, and what Pagan means now, is not what it has always meant. I am posting this becuase (being the know-it-all that I am as this post will attest too...or you can ask EasternPriest ;) ) I have had to eat crow on this topic.

*Pulls open the OED*

Myth: Pagan means person who was a farmer / worshiped old gods / lived on the countryside


My oed still has the "rustic/villager" eytmology, but recent research indicates that this was incorrect (My oed is from1988)

But here is the definitions from it

1. One of a nation or community which does not hold the true religion, or does not worhip the true god (often used to refere to jews and Moslems as well)

2. a person of heathenish character or habits, or one who holds a position analogous to that of a heathen in relation to a Christian society

3. Not belonging to a nation or community that acknowledges the true God; worshipping idols; heathen

Heathen's etymology is unknown. Some believe it comes from Hearth, but there is no conclusive proof of that.

This is an excerpt from Huttons Book "Triumph of the Moon"

He talks about the above difinition and then says:

In 1986, however, the oxford-based historian Robin Lane Fox reminded colleagues that this usage had never actually been proved and that the term had more probably been emplyed in a different sense in which it was attested in the Roman world, of a civilian; in this case a person not enrolled in the Christian army of God. A few years later a French academic, Pieere Chuvin [...]proposed instead that it simply denoted those who preferred the faith of the pagus, the local unit of government.

P4

In either case, the people who lived on the countryside would NEVER have used the word to refere to themselves.

Pagan means not in the Big Three -- what it means to us is more than just not part of the big three (christian, jewish, moslem) -- though by default it means that too...

I am learning so much about history, its great...i highly recommend Huttons book

It was not a word used befor christanity.

Cheers
Xois

*Pagan and Proud*