pa·​gan·​ism | \ ˈpā-gə-ˌni-zəm How to pronounce paganism (audio) \

Definition of paganism

1a : pagan beliefs or practices
b : a pagan religion
2 : the quality or state of being a pagan

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What Do pagan and heathen Really Mean?

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.

Examples of paganism in a Sentence

the paganism of early Rome He is a practitioner of Paganism.
Recent Examples on the Web Shortly after the bishop was arrested for his miracles and, after refusing to convert to paganism, beheaded. Simon Maina, National Geographic, "Valentine's Day wasn't always about love," 12 Feb. 2020 For some who were atheist, or practice paganism, being in a relationship with multiple people can seem even more unpalatable to people outside their religious or poly communities. Emanuella Grinberg, CNN, "Polyamorous relationships: When three isn't a crowd," 28 Jan. 2020 Curioporium, an eerie oddities shop and performance space in Hartford, is a gathering place for those interested in music, poetry, art, paganism, Wicca, witchcraft and more., "Dec. 2, 2019: Got debt? Us, too.," 2 Dec. 2019 This, according to Hyde, is the same reason several people across the world are turning to paganism and Wicca, the religion of modern day witchcraft founded in the 1940s by the Englishman Gerald Gardner. Sofia Quaglia, Quartz, "Women are invoking the witch to find their power in a patriarchal society," 31 Oct. 2019 Even before the three-week Amazon synod opened, conservative and traditionalist Catholics blasted its agenda as a heretical celebration of paganism, given its deference to indigenous cultures and spirituality. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Thieves steal Amazon fertility statues as synod nears end," 21 Oct. 2019 Mention of it can be found in medieval chronicles of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, only a few generations after the Magyars converted from paganism to Christianity. Jacob Mikanowski, Harper's magazine, "The Call of the Drums," 21 July 2019 For his efforts at maintaining paganism, Stephen had him executed and quartered, and sent chunks of his body to be hung from the realm’s four greatest fortresses. Jacob Mikanowski, Harper's magazine, "The Call of the Drums," 21 July 2019 Learn about the glacier’s unique magnetic field, which serves as a pilgrimage site for mystics and others who practice Norse paganism. National Geographic, "Iceland Middle School Expedition," 12 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'paganism.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of paganism

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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The first known use of paganism was in the 15th century

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Cite this Entry

“Paganism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2020.

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How to pronounce paganism (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of paganism

: the state of being pagan
: a religion that has many gods or goddesses, considers the earth holy, and does not have a central authority

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