hese terms appear quite a bit in this work, so the following pages may prove helpful to the reader unfamiliar with how the meanings of these words have evolved over the centuries, and how modern Pagans may tend to use them.
Paganism (past usage): The term "Pagan" comes originally from the Latin paganus, which appears to have had such meanings as "villager," "country dweller," or "hick." The Roman army used it to refer to civilians (and we know how fond career military men are of civilians). Polytheistic as they were, the residents of Rome would never have referred to themselves as "pagans," and were quite annoyed later when the early Roman Christians used "pagan" to refer to everyone who preferred to worship pre-Christian divinities. Over the centuries, "pagan" became simply an insult, applied to the monotheistic followers of Islam by the Christians, and vice versa, and by the Protestants and Catholics towards each other, as it gradually gained the connotation of "a follower of a false religion."
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the word's primary meanings became a blend of "atheist, agnostic, hedonist, religion-less," etc., (when referring to an educated, white, male, heterosexual, non-Celtic European) and "ignorant savage and/or pervert" (when referring to everyone else). In the early twentieth century, various far-right groups began using the term to refer to their fascist/nazi philosophies, and some Meso-pagans (see below) still do.
Paganism (current usage): Today many people in the English-speaking world proudly call ourselves "Pagan" with a capital "P," and to most of us, "Paganism" is a general term for polytheistic, nature-focused religions, old and new, with "Pagan" used as the adjective as well as the membership term. Like "witchcraft," however, it requires something in front in order to clarify exactly what sort of Paganism one is discussing — prefixes are what we've settled on.
Paleopaganism or Paleo-Paganism: The general term for the original polytheistic, nature-centered faiths of tribal Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, Oceania and Australia, when they were (or in some very rare cases, still are) practiced as intact belief systems. Of the so-called "Great Religions of the World," Classical Hinduism (prior to the influx of Islam into India), Taoism and Shinto (before the arrival of Buddhism), for example, fall under this category, though many members of these faiths might be reluctant to use the term to describe themselves today.
Mesopaganism or Meso-Paganism: The general term for a variety of movements, both organized and non-organized, which were started as attempts to recreate, revive or continue what their founders believed to be the best aspects of the Paleopagan ways of their ancestors (or predecessors). However, they were heavily influenced — accidentally, deliberately and/or involuntarily — by concepts, attitudes, and practices from the monotheistic, dualistic, or nontheistic world-views of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or early Buddhism.
Examples of Mesopagan belief systems include: Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, The-osophy, Spiritualism, and those forms of Druidism influenced by those movements; the many Afro-Diasporic faiths, such as Voudoun, Santeria, Candomble, etc.; Sikh-ism and other sects of Hinduism that have been influenced by Islam and/or Christianity; Mahayana Buddhism; Aleister Crowley's religion/philosophy of Thelema; and Od-inism (most modern Norse Paganism). As this work shows, most so-called Family Traditions of Witchcraft (at least, those that aren't completely fake), as well as the more orthodox of the "British Traditionalist" denominations of Wicca, could also be included as Mesopagan.
Neopaganism or Neo-Paganism: The general term for a variety of movements, both organized and (usually) non-organized, started since 1960 or so (though they had literary roots going back to the mid-1800s). These were also attempts, like those of the Mesopagans, to recreate, revive, or continue what their founders believed to be the best aspects of the Paleopagan ways of their ancestors (or presumed predecessors). These were blended with modern humanistic, pluralistic, and inclusionary ideals, while attempting to eliminate inappropriate concepts, attitudes, and practices from the monotheistic, dualistic, or nontheistic world-views of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or early Buddhism.
Examples of Neopaganism would include the Church of All Worlds, most heterodox Wiccan traditions, Druidism as practiced by Âr nDraiocht Féin and Keltria, some Norse Pagan groups, and some modern forms of Buddhism whose members refer to themselves as "Buddheo-Pagans." Oberon Zell, a founder of the Church of All Worlds, was the one who originally popularized the term "Neo-Paganism" in the 1960s and 1970s, though it seems to have been used first during the Renaissance.
These three prefixed terms do not delineate clear-cut categories. There is often a period, whether of decades or centuries, when a Paleopagan path may be turning into a
Mesopagan one, or a Mesopagan one into a Neopagan one. Furthermore, the founders and members of Mesopagan and Neopagan groups frequently prefer to believe (or at least to declare) that they are genuinely Pa-leopagan in beliefs and practices. This "myth of continuity" is in keeping with the habits of most creators and members of new religions throughout human existence, and should neither be discounted nor taken too seriously.
Theology, Thealogy, Duotheology, or Polytheology: Intellectual speculations concerning the nature of God (singular, male), Goddess (singular, female), "the God & the Goddess" (dual, as syntheses of all male deities and all female deities), or the Deities (plural, all genders), respectively, and His, Her, and/or Their relations to the world in general and humans in particular. These activities generally involve "rational" explanations of religious doctrines, practices, and beliefs. These explanations may or may not bear any connection to any religion as actually conceived and practiced by the majority of its members, or to any system of logic not rooted in the same assumptions.
Monotheism: A style of religion in which the theologians (or thealogians) claim that there is only one deity (theirs, of course) and that all other spirits claiming (or claimed) to be deities are "actually" demons in disguise (or a patriarchal plot).
Henotheism: A style of religion in which one deity (out of many) is considered to be the King or Queen of the Gods and assumed to be the proper prime focus of attention. This is what Judaism was, before all the other deities beside Yahweh were demoted in status to "archangels."
Duotheism: A style of religion in which there are two deities accepted by the duo-theologians, usually of opposite gender; all other deities worshiped are considered to be "faces" or aspects of the two main figures.
Polytheism: A style of religion in which the polytheologians claim that there are many deities, of varying power and nature, and many lesser spirits as well, all of who are considered to be "real" and to be possibly worthy of respect and/or worship.
Dualism: A religious doctrine that states that all the spiritual forces of the universe(s) are split into Good Guys and Bad Guys (white vs. black, male vs. female, straight vs. gay, etc.) who are eternally at war with each other.
Polarism: A religious doctrine that states that all the spiritual forces of the universe(s) are split into Guys and Gals (good, weird, horny, scary, whimsical, etc.) who are eternally in bed with each other.
Some of this material is taken from my Polythe-ological Dictionary for Neopagans.
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