Defining Pagan, the War of the Dictionary


How others tend to see us, thanks to a near by dictionary
on any bookshelf in the county

We are taught as children, if you come across a word or concept you don't understand
to look it up in the dictionary, well for a non pagan, who knows nothing of Pagans,
whose looking for information about us ,your typical Dictionary is about the worst place to find it,
for the wrong impression of us it often gives. A dictionary, by definition is supposed to define words, however in this case
and many others, it very often defines a moral judgment. Now I realize that the dictionary is supposed to report the meaning of a word, current with the times in which it is written, however, I feel that such books influence our thinking ,as much as they record it.

Read for yourself.

Right out of the books themselves, recent ones

Pagan = One who has no religion.
One who worships false gods; an idolater; a heathen; one who is neither
a Christian, a Mohammedan, nor a Jew

The American Heritage ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000

Which means , if you are not one of those, you don't have a religion according to this
, note the date of this dictionary,and it is not only we pagans who are excluded here
but a whole multitude of other faiths as well. It defines us as, Not X ,therefore we and our Gods must be false,
making a moral judgment , rather than a definition.

This is not a definition of a word, its a judgment on our faith.
 While a great many folk may indeed feel this way, this is not a non biased
definition of the word.

adj : not acknowledging the God of Christianity and Judaism and Islam
[syn: heathen, heathenish] n : a person who does not acknowledge your God
[syn: heathen, gentile, infidel]

Source: WordNet ® 1.6, © 1997 Princeton University

This one is a little more honest at least in that it defines pagan as anyone who is not your religion'
which is how many look at it, but makes no judgment good or bad.
It's still incorrect however, by this definition a Christian, Jew or follower of Islam
would be a Pagan from my side of the fence, As they are not followers of my faith !
Wouldn't that, just put a cat among the pigeons to even attempt to say it.
Not to mention it completely contradicts itself in the process,
as it doesn't take into consideration how that definition would be
in reference TO a pagan viewing other faiths.

Idol Worshiper

Usage: Pagan, Gentile, Heathen. Gentile was applied to the other nations of the earth as distinguished from the Jews.
Pagan was the name given to idolaters in the early Christian church, because the villagers,
being most remote from the centers of instruction,
remained for a long time unconverted. Heathen has the same origin.

Ok up to here re: the words origin, but....

Pagan is now more properly applied to rude and uncivilized idolaters,
while heathen embraces all who practice idolatry.

Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998

We have no idols, Very few Icons even, back in the days of Egypt and Rome perhaps this may have been so,
but it has not been so for thousands of years, why does the dictionary still say this ?

Not to mention even in the days of Rome and Egypt one did not "worship" the idol,
the idol was only a focus point, no different than the Icons of Christianity,
or Islam or Jewish or any other faith you care to name. All have representatives of the faith.
But by this definition, anything not of those, is an idol and therefore false.
Again a Moral Judgment, not a definition.

How out of date does a concept have to be, before its no longer associated ?
And rude and uncivilized ? I am quite civilized thank you very much !

I am sure it's writers justified this by assuming
they where talking about some tucked away from the world tribe of natives of whatever race,
who practice their religion, never even considering the fact they just insulted and degraded,
a large segment of the population who proudly call themselves Pagan.

Not to mention those who are out on the edge of the world.

Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin paganus, from Latin, civilian, country dweller,
from pagus country district; akin to Latin pangere to fix --
1 : HEATHEN 1; especially : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)

Now mind you up to here they are all right on origins but ... read on

2 : one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods
: an irreligious or hedonistic person.

I don't know about you, but with information like this, it's, no wonder people think
we are a mass of hedonists, just out for kicks and carnal lusts.

I had a gentleman and "I use the term loosely", come up to me and say to me
" I read a Pagan is one who delights in sensual pleasures " after I happened to mention to him I was Pagan,
all he wanted to know was, was it true, with a very nasty gleam in his eye
and a big smile. No lie, fact, then had the nerve to ask me out on a date !

Which is what started the whole ball rolling to see what the dictionary ,
did in fact say of us. And no, I did not date him in case your wondering,
I like my dates to be respectful and intelligent !

Merriam-Webster. the most recent addition
and one of the most commonly used in the county due to its high availability
and the fact it's inexpensive.

   The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition.  2000.

NOUN: 1. One who is not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, especially a worshiper of a polytheistic religion.
2. One who has no religion.
3. A non-Christian.
4. A hedonist.
5. A Neo-Pagan.

ADJECTIVE: 1. Not Christian, Muslim, or Jewish.
2. Professing no religion; heathen.
3. Neo-Pagan.

ETYMOLOGY: Middle English, from Late Latin pgnus, from Latin,
country-dweller, civilian, from pgus, country, rural district.

Again almost factual, but again with the Hedonist and having no religion,
and defining a word based on what it is not, not what it is and relating a bad character judgment to it.

In defense I must say that some are starting to get a clue

pagan   adjective
1: belonging to a religion which worships many gods, especially one
which existed before the main world religions:
2 :relating to religious beliefs that do not belong to any of the main religions of the world:

pagan   noun
1: a person who has pagan beliefs

Cambridge Learner's Dictionary ,2003

Noun  (plural pa·gans)

1. follower of a less popular religion: somebody who does not follow one of the worlds main religions,
especially somebody who is not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew,
and whose religion is regarded as questionable ( sometimes considered offensive )

2. polytheist or pantheist: a follower of an ancient polytheistic or pantheistic religion

3. heathen: somebody who has no religion ( disapproving )


1. of a less popular religion: believing in or relating to a religion
that is not one of the worlds main religions and is regarded as questionable

2. following polytheistic or pantheistic religion: believing in or relating to an ancient polytheistic or pantheistic religion

3. non religious: having no religion ( sometimes considered offensive )

[14th century. Via late Latin paganus  from Latin, “villager, civilian,” from pagus  “rural district” (source of English peasant).]

The Latin word pagus , from which pagan is derived, originally meant “something stuck in the ground as a landmark.”
It was extended metaphorically to “rural district, village,” and the noun paganus  was derived from it,
denoting “country dweller, villager.” This shifted in meaning, first to “civilian,”
and then (based on the early Christian notion that all members of the Church were “soldiers” of Christ) to “heathen.”

Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] © & (P)2004

While still making a call on what is classed as a "main" religion, leaving out many others
and calls pagan a questionable faith or having no faith.
Heathen is the current use word for almost any Asatru and proudly so,
so I feel sure in saying they would be offended by such a definition of themselves,
but it is a lot closer to the words origins and Original meanings.

As you may notice however, with the exception of the few New ones
Almost every description defines us wholly in the negative,
not by saying what we are, but rather what we are not,
which leaves what we are, open to ones imagination.

And then proceeds to fill in the blank for them with moralistic judgments.
Given this kind of information, is it any wonder a lot of the population still think we are Idol worshipers
who are out for fun and games, who have no faith and no religion ?

As a 30 plus year pagan who has spent my life in service to the Mother and the great works,
I am more than offended,
I am appalled.

I have spent a great deal of  my life in prayer and devotion to the Divine,
working at whatever would improve the life of another, my own life, or the common good. Lit countless candles,
said billions of Prayers, Held more rites trying to effect positive changes in the world than I can easily count.

I spend most any day in my current life, seeking ways to improve myself,
so I am a more fit for the service to the Most High Mother of us all,
and yet, In nearly every dictionary currently in use, I am called a faithless,
hedonistic, Idol worshiper, whose into lust and material gain.
All the Seven deadly Sins rolled up in one package.

And I am none of those things.

How do these " definitions " equate with Pagan ? Answer for the most part,  they don't !
Yet, until we as Pagans, get up and demand that all current day dictionaries define us in factual terms
and not some left over Moral judgments  we will never convince people that we are not what the dictionary says we are,
just because it says it. Even if all the faiths who currently preach against us were suddenly silent,
the dictionary, the book we depend on for the semantics and meaning of our language,
and therefore our definition of the World, would still condemn us.

We are taught to have faith in a dictionary, in that we must believe that the words and definitions there in, are accurate
or what good is the book to us ? Never mind the fact anybody  can see that a lot of these are judgments
on weather to be pagan is a good or bad thing, and not a definition.
That it is often a Moral judgment codified as a definition of a word. But it's never questioned.
Unless you are the one being derided.

We are, in almost any dictionary in the country.

Matters have improved, make no mistake, 
you go back further and it gets worse and even more moralistic.

A dictionaries job is to define a word, period.

Not to make a judgment call on whether it's right or wrong to be the thing so defined.
It's time we demand our rights as Pagans to be represented accurately in any and all such books,
so those out there who still don't know what we are, who choose to use the dictionary to get information,
get an accurate image.

What do you think ?

Want to do something about this ? check this out off site link
Companion works

The Way of the Heathen

Sex and the Path Urban myths