Dictionary.com
definitions
  • synonyms

pagan

[pey-guh n]
See more synonyms on Thesaurus.com
noun
  1. (no longer in technical use) one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks.
  2. a member of a religious, spiritual, or cultural community based on the worship of nature or the earth; a neopagan.
  3. Disparaging and Offensive.
    1. (in historical contexts) a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim; a heathen.
    2. an irreligious or hedonistic person.
    3. an uncivilized or unenlightened person.
adjective
  1. of, relating to, or characteristic of pagans.
  2. Disparaging and Offensive.
    1. relating to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Muslim.
    2. irreligious or hedonistic.
    3. (of a person) uncivilized or unenlightened.

Origin of pagan

1325–75; Middle English < Medieval Latin, Late Latin pāgānus ‘worshiper of false gods’, orig. ‘civilian’ (i.e., not a soldier of Christ), Latin: ‘peasant’, noun use of pāgānus ‘rural, civilian’, derivative of pāgus ‘village, rural district’ (akin to pangere ‘to fix, make fast’); see -an
Related formspa·gan·ish, adjectivepa·gan·ish·ly, adverbnon·pa·gan, noun, adjectivenon·pa·gan·ish, adjectivepseu·do·pa·gan, adjectivesem·i·pa·gan, noun, adjectivesem·i·pa·gan·ish, adjectiveun·pa·gan, adjective

Synonym study

Heathen and pagan are primarily historical terms that were applied pejoratively, especially by people who were Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, to peoples who were not members of one of those three monotheistic religious groups. Heathen referred especially to the peoples and cultures of primitive or ancient tribes thought to harbor unenlightened, barbaric idol worshipers: heathen rites; heathen idols.
Pagan, although sometimes applied similarly to those tribes, was more often used to refer specifically to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who worshiped the multiple gods and goddesses said to dwell on Mount Olympus, such as Zeus and Athena (called Jupiter and Minerva by the Romans). The term was applied to their beliefs and culture as well: a pagan ritual; a pagan civilization.
Contemporary paganism, having evolved and expanded in Europe and North America since the 20th century, includes adherents of diverse groups that hold various beliefs, which may focus, for example, on the divinity of nature or of the planet Earth or which may be pantheistic or polytheistic. In modern English, heathen remains an offensive term, used to accuse someone of being unenlightened or irreligious; pagan, however, is increasingly a neutral description of certain existing and emerging religious movements.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
British Dictionary definitions for pagan

pagan

noun
  1. a member of a group professing a polytheistic religion or any religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam
  2. a person without any religion; heathen
adjective
  1. of or relating to pagans or their faith or worship
  2. heathen; irreligious
Derived Formspagandom, nounpaganish, adjectivepaganism, nounpaganist, adjective, nounpaganistic, adjectivepaganistically, adverb

Word Origin

C14: from Church Latin pāgānus civilian (hence, not a soldier of Christ), from Latin: countryman, villager, from pāgus village
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for pagan

n.

late 14c., from Late Latin paganus "pagan," in classical Latin "villager, rustic; civilian, non-combatant" noun use of adjective meaning "of the country, of a village," from pagus "country people; province, rural district," originally "district limited by markers," thus related to pangere "to fix, fasten," from PIE root *pag- "to fix" (see pact). As an adjective from early 15c.

Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for "civilian, incompetent soldier," which Christians (Tertullian, c.202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (e.g. milites "soldier of Christ," etc.). Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshippers from 1908.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper