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pagan

[ pey-guhn ]
/ ˈpeɪ gən /
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noun

(no longer in technical use) one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks.
a member of a religious, spiritual, or cultural community based on the worship of nature or the earth; a neopagan.
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

of, relating to, or characteristic of pagans.
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.

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Origin of pagan

First recorded in 1325–75; Middle English, from Medieval Latin, Late Latin pāgānus “worshiper of false gods,” originally (in military slang), “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 make fast, settle upon, fix”) + -anus ; see -an
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. 2021

British Dictionary definitions for pagan

pagan
/ (ˈpeɪɡən) /

noun

a member of a group professing a polytheistic religion or any religion other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam
a person without any religion; heathen

adjective

of or relating to pagans or their faith or worship
heathen; irreligious
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
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