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

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 Black metal lyrics often espouse Satanism and paganism, and a few bands feature neo-Nazi beliefs. Melinda Deslatte, The Seattle Times, "Shock at arrest of deputy’s son in black church fires," 14 Apr. 2019 And even if paganism isn’t your thing, there’s at least one thing to celebrate in the Northern Hemisphere. Brian Resnick, Vox, "The winter solstice is incredibly beautiful in America’s northernmost city," 20 Dec. 2018 The early Christian fathers were troubled by the possibility that the faithful might identify the Garden of Eden’s trees of life and knowledge, described in the Book of Genesis, with paganism’s divine trees and sacred groves. Amanda Foreman, WSJ, "Trees of Life and Wonder," 13 Dec. 2018 Most 18th and 19th-century Americans thought the tradition was odd though, and to some it was even taken to be a representation of paganism. Nicol Natale, Woman's Day, "Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?," 15 Nov. 2018 Instead, this darker, bloodier version of Sabrina Spellman’s antics introduces a world in which the misconception that witchcraft, paganism, and Wiccan rituals are about devil worship is indulged to create a brewing battle for ultimate control. Kelsea Stahler, Teen Vogue, "The Resurgence of Witches in Pop Culture Like Sabrina, AHS "Coven," and "Charmed" Reflects Women in the Real World," 14 Nov. 2018 When Christianity became the official religion of Rome in 380, the association of cats with paganism and witchcraft made them suspect. Amanda Foreman, WSJ, "The Dark Lore of Black Cats," 18 Oct. 2018 The profusion of male parts on the walls of the valley is a sign that there are things older than Buddhism in the fairy hills; a vital paganism underlies it. Lawrence Osborne, Town & Country, "Why Everyone Is Traveling to Bhutan," 30 Mar. 2015

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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Statistics for paganism

Last Updated

16 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for paganism

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

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More Definitions for paganism



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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More from Merriam-Webster on paganism

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with paganism

Spanish Central: Translation of paganism

Nglish: Translation of paganism for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of paganism for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about paganism

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