The semantic development of post-classical Latin paganus in the sense "non-Christian, heathen" is unclear. The dating of this sense is controversial, but the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4th_century 4th century] seems most plausible. An earlier example has been suggested in Tertullian De Corona Militis xi, "Apud hunc [sc. Christum] tam miles est paganus fidelis quam paganus est miles fidelis," but here the word paganus is generally interpreted as "civilian," since the alternative would be that Tertullian had written of "In Christ... the faithful pagan." There are three main explanations of the development:
- (i) The older sense of classical Latin pāgānus is "of the country, rustic" (also as noun). It has been said that the transferred use reflects the fact that the ancient idolatry lingered on in the rural villages and hamlets after Christianity had been accepted in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire; cf. Orosius Histories 1. Prol. "Ex locorum agrestium compitis et pagis pagani vocantur." From its earliest beginnings, Christianity spread much more quickly in major urban areas (like Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, Corinth, Rome) than in the countryside (in fact, the early church was almost entirely urban), and soon the word for "country dweller" became synonymous with someone who was "not a Christian," giving rise to the modern meaning of "pagan." This may, in part, have had to do with the closeness to nature of rural people, who may have been more resistant to the new ideas of Christianity than those who lived in major urban centers and were cut off from the cycles of nature and the forms of spirituality associated with them. However, it may have also resulted from early Christian missionaries focusing their efforts within major population centers (e.g., St. Paul), rather than throughout an expansive, yet sparsely populated, countryside (hence, the Latin term suggesting "uneducated country folk") until a bit later on.
- (ii) The more common meaning of classical Latin pāgānus is "civilian, non-militant" (adjective and noun). Christians called themselves mīlitēs, "enrolled soldiers" of Christ, members of his militant church, and applied to non-Christians the term applied by soldiers to all who were "not enrolled in the army".
- (iii) The sense "heathen" arose from an interpretation of paganus as denoting a person who was outside a particular group or community, hence "not of the city" or "rural"; cf. Orosius Histories 1. Prol. "ui alieni a civitate dei..pagani vocantur." See C. Mohrmann, Vigiliae Christianae 6 (1952) 9ff.
- 1: heathen 1; especially : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
- 2: one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods : an irreligious or hedonistic person
It is primarily used in a historical context, Greco-Roman polytheism as well as the polytheistic traditions of Europe and North Africa before Christianization. In a wider sense, extended to contemporary religions, it includes most of the Eastern religions and the indigenous traditions of the Americas, Central Asia, Australia and Africa; as well as non-Abrahamic folk religion in general. More narrow definitions will not include any of the world religions and restrict the term to local or rural currents not organized as civil religions. Characteristic of Pagan traditions is the absence of proselytism and the presence of a living mythology, which informs religious practice.
Ethnologists often avoid the term "pagan," with its uncertain and varied meanings, in referring to traditional or historic faiths, preferring more precise categories such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, or animism.
In the late 20th century, "Paganism", or more correctly "Neopaganism", became widely used in reference to adherents of various new religious movement including Wicca. As such, various modern scholars have begun to apply the term to three groups of separate faiths: Historical Polytheism (such as Celtic polytheism,Kemetism,Norse Paganism, the Cultus Deorum Romanorum and Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism also called Hellenismos), Folk/ethnic/Indigenous religions (such as Chinese folk religion and African traditional religion), and Neopaganism (such as Wicca, Neo-Druidism).