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Defining Paganism I: Word Wrangling

By Jeff Lilly

During the Festival of Lights that Ali and I attended this February, one of the big issues discussed during many of the presentations and workshops was the very definition of paganism. Pretty much everyone there, if you asked them, would agree that they were pagan, and not a cabbage or something. But it turns out it that if it had been a Festival of Cabbages, things might have been simpler.

Various definitions of pagan were offered. Here is a sampling:

Indigenous European. A popular definition — and one suggested by some of the event’s organizers — was that the pagan religion was one derived from and / or inspired by the indigenous religions of Europe (with ‘indigenous’ taken to mean ‘pre-Christian’). This definition would include various actual instances of surviving belief systems in the far reaches of Europe, as well as the revived or inspired-by religions such as Wicca, Druidry, Asatru, and the like, but would not include, say, Native American religion, Vodou and Santeria (which seem to be primarily derived from Roman Catholicism mixed with African and Native American beliefs), Buddhism, etc.

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