In its broadest sense, Paganism refers to any religious or spiritual belief system outside of the three Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. When referring to Paganism though, we generally exclude Hinduism, Buddhism, and other such large non-Christian religions because they are major religions in their own right. New Age beliefs, while similar and sometimes overlapping with Pagan beliefs, are also usually considered separate. Some Pagans, particularly those who follow Norse practices, prefer to be called “Heathen.” The term “pagan” itself is comes from the Latin “paganus” which means “rustic” or “country dweller.” “Pagan” and “Heathen” have been used as derogatory terms by Christians from the early times of the Christian Roman Empire. This is probably because rural, country folk were more likely to hold onto their older religions and folk practices and less likely to be Christian than the urban, city dwellers of the time. Pagan religions tend to be polytheistic and nature based. They also typically celebrate the cycles of the year including the solar solstices and equinoxes, four holidays between these solar observances, and the lunar cycles (usually full and new moons).
Modern Pagans focus on continuing and oftentimes reconstructing ancient polytheistic religions. These include Northern, European, Germanic, Celtic, Greek, Roman, and even African religions. Many of these religions are older than many of the mainstream religions of today. For example, Christianity has only been around about 2000 years, whereas the Greek and Roman religions that we now consider mythology had been around for several millennia before Christ was even born. Often in history when a new religion takes hold, the older religions are integrated, demonized, or slip away into mythology. If you look closely enough, you can see that all three have happened to Pagan religions. Christianity integrated the old Pagan holy days (holidays) into their newer Christian holy days and masses. That’s why Christmas is celebrated so close to the winter solstice and why Easter features fertility symbols like rabbits and eggs. Pagan deities have also been demonized by the newer religions. There is no Satan in Paganism, but the Christian Satan is often depicted with horns and cloven hoofs, much like the Greek god and satyr Pan. Since Satan is described in the Bible as a fallen angel, shouldn’t he look like an angel – with wings for example? The Bible never describes Satan as looking like a satyr, but many Christian’s do. And the scriptures, gods, and goddesses that were once part of ancient Greek religion and the deities of other ancient cultures have been relegated to the realm of just being good stories, myths, and characters rather than an actual religion that anyone can adopt, study, and worship.
Unfortunately, many Pagan beliefs and practices have been lost to antiquity. In some cases, such as the Druids, their beliefs weren’t written down, but instead were part of an oral tradition. In other cases, the people who practiced these religions were killed and anything written about their religions and practices were destroyed. The early Christian church was especially vigilant about converting other religions to their own and destroying any competition to their monopoly on religion. They did this through crusades and later through witch hunts. It’s interesting to note that sexual “deviants” were also victims of the witch hunts. This may be why the term “faggot” is associated with homosexuals. Faggots were bundles of burning sticks and many alleged witches and other “deviants” were burned at the stake.
With few exceptions, modern Pagans have a much broader and accepting attitude toward sexuality, including alternative sexualities, than the mainstream religions. Abrahamic religions especially tend to be puritanical – focusing on sexuality as a means to populate the earth, rather than an act of love or pleasure. In contrast, the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess states that all “All acts of love and pleasure are my worship.” Wicca makes up one of the larger branches of Paganism. Other large branches include Druidry and Norse Heathenism.