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What does Pagan mean? What does it have to do with Hinduism?

So many people have written me and asked what Paganism is. Paganism is an umbrella term that covers many other religions and systems of beliefs.

The word Pagan is often seen as a negative word, but is actually not negative at all. It was used in a negative way to describe non-Jews and non-Christians in the Bible. The word "pagan" means "country dweller" and was used by the Romans to describe native peoples of Europe who had a non-Roman lifestyle and system of beliefs. It was later used to mean "non-Roman citizen." Only after the Church became powerful in England and persecuted non-Christians, were pagans seen in a bad light!

The reason many are grouped under the term "Pagan" is because there are strikingly common themes that run through them all. For example, in most pagan religions, the four sacred elements are earth, fire, air, and water. In most of them, three and five are sacred numbers, and when making a circle in ritual, it is done clockwise (the path of the sun and moon).

Most "Modern" religions have pagan roots. For example, pagans in Europe celebrate Oestara (prounounced "Estra") in the Spring. They celebrate new life after the bleakness of winter. This is when plants and hibernating animals come out of the earth. The goddess Oestra emerges out of the ground in the form of a hare. Red eggs are a sign of new life and good luck among some European pagans. Today, Christians celebrate Easter in the spring to celebrate the new life of Jesus as he emerges from the tomb. Modern children of European descent believe that the "Easter bunny" leaves colored eggs for them on Easter morning--usually before Easter morning church services!

So why haven't you heard more about Europen pagans? Most were tried as witches and killed. Those who weren't kept their beliefs to themselves. Only a few years ago was witchcraft taken off the English books as being illegal!

Today the word Pagan is used to describe a special group of people that is millions and millions strong.

A simple way to define Paganism is:

Religious groups generally thought of as Pagan include, but are not limited to:

Many people today are seeking out their pagan roots. Celtic music and dance is becoming popular, African-Americans are seeking to identify with their roots, and Europeans are stuying yoga and meditation in record numbers. As we turn towards the future, paganism is still alive and well, and serving the spiritual needs of our gobal community.

For more information, see NeoPaganism, as described on the Religious Tolerance page.

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