Medieval Christians used the word “pagan” to refer to anyone who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. The word predominantly referred to the country-dwellers in Europe who were still practicing their pre-Christian religions, even though these were not recognized as religions by the Catholic church. It placed many different cultures under the same umbrella, despite their unrelatedness and tremendous diversity.
Back in Medieval times, there was no separation of church and state. Christianity was the official religion of the monarchy, and being pagan was considered to be against the king. That was when, for political reasons, the church made up the lie that pagans worship the devil. In actuality, pagans did not believe in the devil. But portraying them as satanic witches was an effective means of persuading the masses to spread the king’s religion and wipe out other systems of belief.
In recent times, the word “Pagan” is often used to describe modern forms of spirituality that draw upon ancient, pre-Christian religious elements. In addition to having a deep reverence for the natural environment, many Pagans worship deities that were worshipped by the Celts and other ancient peoples, and use symbols that came from earlier pagan cultures. Like the pagans in Medieval Europe, modern Pagans follow a wide diversity of different beliefs. The common word, Pagan, unifies them culturally in a manner that is distinctly modern.
Unfortunately, some of the negative misconceptions about pagans are still present in our society today. For this reason, many Pagans suffer rejection by family members and are fearful of being open about their beliefs around non-Pagans. Many of them have had experiences in which well-meaning, but misinformed, individuals have told them that they are going to Hell, or similar hurtful remarks. It is often extremely difficult to get these people to change their minds and stop being prejudiced.
Although bad experiences like these have caused some Pagans to be leery of Christians, Paganism is not an anti-Christian religion. They have different beliefs, but Pagans do not seek to dismantle Christianity or convert Christians to Paganism. Nor are they hateful of the Christian form of the divine, nor do they want to be at war with Christians. Christians and Pagans can coexist peacefully, respecting each other’s differences.
Here at Purdue PAN, we welcome open-minded Christians who are interested in learning more about Paganism, even if they are not interested in becoming Pagan. We encourage peaceful coexistence of all systems of belief, and the spread of knowledge that promotes respect and understanding amid these differences.
For further suggested reading about Paganism and Christianity click here.