Since I need to define what I mean when I say I’m a pagan, I decided to start by sharing my own interpretation (as brievely as possible). I’m not going to talk about etymology because it is a very long story, quite controversial and I don’t think it is that important to discuss right now.
Let’s see, paganism is a term coined by Christians to refer to anyone who did not practice their religion or any of the major ones (Jewish or Muslim), which used to be rural people still to be Christianized. It is not usually used for Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.)..
Today it is about those religions based on the land. If you like big words, you could say that a pagan believes in the immanence, interconnection and polytheism.
Inmanence is the belief that the deity is part of the core of everything. It is not the creator of the world, it is an the world itself. Therefore, for the pagans all life (I would even say everything) is sacred because it contains the essence of divinity itself. Based on this premise, it makes sense to believe that we are all connected (interconnection) instead of isolated parts. It is interesting to note that this idea is supported by current theories of physic field; we are all made of the very same particles that are always moving and interacting with each other.
Paganism is also characterized by polytheism in the broadest sense of the word, I mean, we believe in various Gods / Goddess instead of only one (monotheism).
In summary, paganism is a religion based in nature that believes that nature and all it contains is sacred because it part of the divinity, which also manifests itself in different entities (Gods and Goddesses).
Other things (that I believe) we have in common:
- Respecting for life and individual freedom limited by not harming the others.
- Seeing nature as a temple (sacred place).
- Practice of magic and religious rituals, or at least the belief in magic.
- Seeing the main deity as female or as the union of the feminine with the masculine energy.
- Being against proselytism because we do not believe that ours is the only way to approach divinity / spirituality, but only one of the possible ways.
- Not believing in a supreme entity of evil (the christian devil or Satan).
At a theoretical level any Aboriginal religion (commonly referred to as primitive or native) may be included in this definition but is not usually done. Paganism is normally used by those of pre-christian beliefs originated in Europe. For example: Wicca, Druidism, Asatru, Hellenism, etc.
Today there is also the term neo-paganism, sometimes used as a synonym of paganism and sometimes understood as a New Age related movement or differentiated because some of an intent of reconstruct ancient practices.