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There are generally four different uses of “Pagan” floating about, in order from most restricted to most broad:
- Someone belonging to a range of contemporary religions/spiritual paths inspired by pre-Christian Indo-European or Mediterranean traditions, though not necessarily attempting to recreate them exactly as they were. This meaning can be more precisely denoted by “Contemporary Pagan” or “Neopagan”, but Pagan rolls off the tongue better and serves as a nice shorthand.
- Someone belonging to such a contemporary religion or a historical person belonging to said pre-Christian Indo-European/Mediterranean traditions from those times, e.g. Roman polytheists of Classical times, Norse, Greeks, Egyptians, Indians, etc. This usage is somewhat anachronistic as the ancient peoples did not call themselves Pagan but were called that derogatorily by Christians in the late Roman era. Nevertheless, the term has been reclaimed by moderns and now serves to emphasize the link between those moderns and their spiritual ancestors.
- Someone belonging to a contemporary religion or path which shares certain things in common with Neopagans, such as an earth-centered nature-based path or an interest in the Occult. E.g. Gaians might be covered under this meaning.
- Anyone belonging to a non-Abrahamic religion.
HP used to use “Pagan” to refer primarily to the first two, and sometimes a little more inclusively to include the third, with the fourth being considered too broad to be of much use. However, in 2013 popular opinion found this usage unnecessarily restrictive, so “Pagan” has now opened up to include the fourth meaning.
Halstead has analyzed Contemporary Paganism in terms of three partially-overlapping centers of interest, resulting in some tension and conflict in the community:
Recently, controversy has raged over the definition of “Pagan”, mainly as a matter of identity in the community. Essential characteristics, as well as who/what to include or exclude have been central issues. There have been notable debates over the appropriateness of Atheist Pagans and “Christo-Pagans” under the Pagan umbrella.
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