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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

synonym study for pagan

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.

OTHER WORDS FROM pagan

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does pagan mean?

The word pagan was once used to refer to a person who practiced a polytheistic religion—one based on belief in more than one god. 

This sense of the word was also used as an adjective to describe things related to such belief systems, as in pagan rituals. These senses are no longer in technical use (such as among religion scholars). 

Historically, pagan has also been used by followers of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to refer any person who practices a different religion (especially one different than their own). This sense of the word is considered disparaging and offensive due to implying that such people and their beliefs are primitive and perhaps even evil. A more general use of pagan based on this sense is used to refer to a person considered irreligious, uncivilized, or hedonistic. The word heathen has traditionally been used in the same ways. 

Today, pagan can be used in a neutral way to refer to a person whose religious or spiritual beliefs center around nature or the earth and various deities associated with it. Such a person may also be called or identify as a neopagan.  

Example: As a Wiccan, I consider myself a pagan in the tradition of ancient belief systems.

Where does pagan come from?

The first records of the word pagan come from around 1325. It ultimately comes from the Late Latin pāgānus, meaning “worshiper of false gods.” 

Negative, disparaging use of the word pagan grew during the Middle Ages, which was a time of many religious conflicts and persecution of other religions by Christian powers. Followers of ancient Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic religions are just some examples of groups that were persecuted for their beliefs.

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What are some other forms related to pagan?

  • nonpagan (noun, adjective)
  • pagandom (noun)

What are some synonyms for pagan?

What are some words that share a root or word element with pagan

What are some words that often get used in discussing pagan?

How is pagan used in real life?

Pagan has a long history of offensive and disparaging use, in both specific and general ways. In terms of modern religion, the word pagan is used as a term of self-identification among practitioners of certain belief systems.

How to use pagan in a sentence

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

Derived forms of pagan

Word Origin for pagan

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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