The History of Paganism

Introduction to the History of Paganism

The rise and fall of paganism, as well as the influences that it has had on historically Christian European culture, is a subject that cannot be fully explained with references to a few books, since this subject has already been dealt with by many great scholars. In the following pages, I am not going to attempt to write a full history of paganism. I will only explore those aspects of pagan history that are most relevant to our particular discussion. In order to do my work, however, I must first define what is meant by “paganism.”
Paganism is best defined as a belief system; it is therefore correct for me to say that paganism is not a religion, but rather a “world-view. ” What does this mean? It means that paganism is not a religion in the same sense that Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism are. It is easy to underestimate the tremendous influence that these religions have had on our world, but it must not be forgotten that there are many other religions on the planet besides these four.
In fact, since all of these religions were shaped by pagan beliefs and practices, it can easily be shown that paganism has exercised as much influence on them as they have on paganism. This is not to say that the religions mentioned above have not had a profound impact on our world; they have, in fact, helped shape the customs and traditions of almost every nation on earth. After all, there are more Christians on this planet than there are followers of any other religion.

is the west becoming pagan again
is the west becoming pagan again

The Historical Interpretations of Ancient Paganism

When discussing the study of ancient paganism, it is important to clearly define what exactly it means. In our world today, “pagan” is a very ambiguous term used much too freely. In order to understand the rise and fall of paganism in the West and its influence on history, we must first look at how this word has been used throughout history. In its original sense, the word “pagan” means “country dweller.” This definition applies to all non-Christian peoples of antiquity. Latin paganus meant country dweller, and an old English name for all non-Christian people was “paganes.” The term paganus is Roman in origin and means country people. From these ancient definitions, it is very clear that a pagan was a non-Christian person who lived in a city or village. Generally, these people lived in a rural area or small town. This word is still in use today, but has been extended to be synonymous with non-Christian.

is the west becoming pagan again
is the west becoming pagan again

Celtic Christianity vs. Latin Christianity

The problem of paganism and the Western world is closely connected with the difference between Celtic Christianity and Roman Christianity. The Celtic people were villagers; they lived in houses or huts. In Latin Christianity, however, people who lived in the country or in villages were called pagani, and there was far less sympathy for them among the Romans and Latins than there was among the Celts. The ancient Celts were very much one people, whereas Latin Christians were composed of many nationalities and faiths. Thus, the Romans could be seen as being more pagan in the true sense than the Celts, since the Romans appeared to show less Christian feeling toward the countryside dwellers.

is the west becoming pagan again
is the west becoming pagan again

The Rise and Decline of Paganism in Europe

The question of paganism really only arose in the Roman Empire, since from the beginning of Christianity there were no pagans in Palestine. The Romans had contact with pagans, but there was no religious conflict until the time of Constantine. The expansion of Christianity in the empire created a wide separation between pagans and Christians in the empire, but this division was rather superficial. Only a few Christian writers mentioned paganism in their writings. They did not give any attention to pagan belief. The rise of the heresy of Gnosticism during the fourth century brought about a great change regarding paganism. This heresy began by attacking certain aspects of Christianity, then attacked the whole Christian faith and finally turned its attention to paganism. For more information on Gnosticism, see THE WESTERN CHURCH HISTORY .

is the west becoming pagan again
is the west becoming pagan again

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