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The term Paganism comes from the Latin word paganus, which refers to those who lived in the country (and were by implication considered uneducated or backward). When Christianity began to grow in the Roman Empire, it did so at first primarily in the cities, and the people who lived in the country and kept on believing in old ways came therefore to be known as pagans.
Paganism today is a large religious movement that consists of many different religions. Pagan practices involve everything from forms of ancient European practices to religions inspired by science fiction writings. Most American pagan religions have practices that blend together different traditions, such as Celtic, Greco-Roman, Native American, ancient Egyptian and Norse. Pagan traditions draw from beliefs and practices as much (or more) than 5,000 years old, as well as from modern beliefs formed in the last century.
There is no universal pagan spiritual leader and there is no universal pagan scripture or holy book. Most pagan groups are not very structured or organized. A great deal of pagan religion is practiced and made known to others through networks and festivals.
The following beliefs are common to many (but not all) different pagan groups1.
- A belief in multiple deities, including male and female deities.
- A revival of ancient or ancestral beliefs.
- Animism and a belief in spirits.
- A belief in the soul.
- A sense of equality or community with other things, such as people, animals, plants and inanimate objects.
- A belief that one's actions will return to one in kind.
- An observance of the cycles of nature.
1Quoted and adapted from http://www.sacredhearth.com (accessed on 12/7/07)