Definition of pagan
- witches, druids, goddess worshippers, and other pagans in America today
- —Alice Dowd
the Spanish conquistadores regarded the native peoples of the lands that they conquered as pagans who were uncivilized and inherently inferior
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pagan.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Pagan is derived from the Late Latin paganus, which was used at the end of the Roman Empire to name those who practiced a religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Early Christians often used the term to refer to non-Christians who worshiped multiple deities. In Latin, paganus originally meant “country dweller” or “civilian;” it is believed that the word’s religious meanings developed either from the enduring non-Christian religious practices of those who lived far from the Roman cities where Christianity was more quickly adopted, or from the fact that early Christians referred to themselves as “soldiers of Christ,” making nonbelievers “civilians.”
The definition and etymology of heathen overlap with those of pagan: both words denote “an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible,” and heathen, like pagan, is believed to have come from the term for a country inhabitant, or in this case, a "heath dweller."
Both words have developed broader and pejorative meanings over time, with pagan being used to mean “an irreligious or hedonistic person” and heathen “uncivilized” or “strange,” but their original meanings are still in use.
What made you want to look up pagan? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).
Confusing Words—A Quiz