Pagan History

What is a pagan religion? Paganism is the most widespread religious form of the ancient world. This ancient religious form remains active in many parts of today’s world, both in advanced civilizations and countries such as Japan or India, and in much less developed societies, where tribal communities still exist. Pagan definition or the term “Paganism” is derived from the Latin word "paganus", which can be translated as "country dweller", “villager” or "rustic"; and in a military slang of Roman republic: a “non-combatant” or “civilian man”. Thus, the term initially described a person’s locality rather than a religion.

This word - "paganism" refers to various pre-Christian religions belonging to a number of ancient regions such as Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt of Pharaohs, Scandinavia, etc. Pagan meaning can be described as polytheistic belief, oppisite to monotheism, which is a religion of one God. Before the period of monotheism’s domination (one of the monotheist religions – Christianity is meant), the Western Europe was in the sphere of influence of highly civilized Roman culture. The Roman Republic and then Roman Empire were characterized by a huge number of various religions and cults, which were existed together in a single society, and shared in many cases the same location and even the same buildings for religious services. This eclectic synthesis is more similar to the contemporary neo-paganism than any other form of historically existing paganism. However, it ended after the actions of Christian emperors to curb Pagan cults. Despite the efforts of Roman Emperor Julian to restore Paganism as a state religion in Rome, for many centuries Pagan beliefs were outlawed in Europe or were absorbed by Christian denominations.

History of post-pagan West witnessed several resurgences of Paganism, occurred in various forms. At first, it was the early medieval period, when many folk religious movements were arising, which were labelled heretical by the official Christianity. These movements were influenced by pre-Christian and gnostic beliefs. During this time, any form of paganism was punished with death and torture. Then there comes the Renaissance, which lasted until the 16th century. In this period, pagan symbolism and ideas in the sphere of art and philosophy were even more common than official Christian doctrines. The term "Paganism" was revived during the epoch of Renaissance when writers were trying to determine differences between the old traditions and their contemporary Christian religion. However, because the term was used in many ancient texts, medieval authors came to conclusion that it referred to a religious sect and gave it the respective connotation.

Using pagan symbolism and texts was very common during the Renaissance; the Kabbalah and Tarot originate in this era, forming the basis of modern pagan symbolism. The Renaissance also saw the rebirth of ancient Greek humanistic and philosophical traditions, mainly pagan because of their suppression during the existence of Christian Rome.

The Reformation was again a period during which Pagan beliefs were widely persecuted; many Protestant rulers across Europe carried out strict anti-heresy measures, in reality trying to eliminate all forms of pagan influence. Then began the clashes between Protestant and Catholic states and groups of nobles and subsequent so-called Catholic reaction was marked by the large-scale persecutions of dissidents, including Pagans. In particular, later Inquisitorial period was very active in it. The Inquisition lasted until the Enlightenment period in the late 18th century. The historical epoch after it is frequently called Modern era and Europe, especially Western Europe, witnessed sharp decline of popularity of the official Christian denominations, and revival of Pagan traditions in certain circles of European society, including groups of intellectuals.

History of Europe is in some ways a guide for other parts of the world, because the processes occurring in Europe after the beginning of Modern and further, are more or less replicated in other countries with some lag. Therefore, many Asian and African countries were brought under the influence of Catholicism and Protestantism, which were curbing indigenous Pagan traditions, and the growth of neo-paganism is expected in these countries, as it occurred in many Western societies.