The human need for identity has an interesting way of transforming words. During my studies of history, language, and the occult, I have seen more than a handful of denominations that cultural revivalists and occultists have used to distinguish themselves and their respective groups. I mean, it makes sense – with the advent of increased information through the internet, it seems anyone and their morbidly obese catkin cousin can throw a word around and transmogrify it into an identifier – however logically retarded it may be. Everything seems to be fair game.
Which brings me to my main subject at hand – pagans.
Many who claim this term, would state that it is a derogatory term invented wholly by Christians. As far as the late usage, sure. The term is certainly a pejorative when we look at the ecclesiastical usage, as it was a way to demarcate those of an older way of living from those of the new faith. But, as with everything under the sky, there are layers to unfurl.
The term is adopted from an old Roman administrative term pagi. This was the designation of tribal territories in rural areas, often in places such as Celtic Europe and could also be applied to the late Germanic areas as well. These territories lay outside the areas where the political powers were centralized: walled urban city-states, port cities, hillforts, and villas or manors.
Being applied to places where Rome had a significant hold, it seems that this word was used to describe the splintered, shire-like setting these people lived in. While there was a large amount of proximity, these shires were bordered, and within them dwelled different peoples. They may have shared the same tongue, or variances of the same culture, but they weren’t all the same. As Rome moved into these regions, they instilled what was known as the villa system onto the pre-existing inhabitants, which was adopted and thereafter maintained by incoming Germanic tribesmen even after the Romans fell. This form preceded the late manorialism seen in medieval England after the Norman conquest in the eleventh century, which was a form of feudalism on a micropolitical scale.
There were originally common people – regular ass folks who were scattered across these territories. Working on a local level for their subsistence and were not dependent on the hand of a master for their meals. The foreign influence from Rome changed this dynamic entirely and fashioned the colonate or tenant farmer system. This is a passive form of slavery whereby one lives on the land, is bonded to it, and works the fields, with the landowner getting the capital from the produce. This was usually a whole family affair, and whole generations were raised under the heel of this system.
That term bonded strikes a tone for me, so let me put it into context for you. When looking at the etymology of the term pagi, it gives roots of peh₂ǵ and peh₂ḱ, and both primarily mean to attach, or to join. Which really, are just synonyms for being bonded to a thing. These roots have later descendant words such as pact and fastened.
Based on these understandings – what is the term pagan really referring to? Did this word accurately ascertain what these common folks really were like? I would conclude that yes – the term was correct based on the observations of the people who dwelled in these types of areas. Their characteristic inclination was to be bonded to the land they dwelled in and be bonded to their local populace through culture and custom. Loyal to their own, and them alone.
I would say the term in truth, should be more of a description of the habits of the dwellers, rather than an actual identifier. This would not have been a word used between them anyway, since history details that all these ancient peoples had tribal names separate from the foreign classifications of Rome. Tribal differences always bring along with it the in-group/out-group mentality, which is a natural animal mentality, and is ultimately a healthy mentality. While this usually led to violent ways of demarcation between people – I’d say that violence is healthy to maintain the society and the appropriate power structures. Any society that negates violence or defense tends to die out after some time. Just look at what happened to Tibet in 1950. Slaughtered.
Though for modern pagans, none of these principles seem to hold weight, which is why they are in essence – not pagan at all. Most would be happier to negate these principal forms in favor of not being attached to others and staying solitary, which just means that they don’t want to be held responsible for creating and maintaining a culture or people. Over the years, I have heard many say that it is impossible in the world we currently live in, but frankly I have always seen that as a cop out, revealing a deep laziness which degrades the spirit. Being a pagan takes a certain amount of work, planning and bringing others into your sphere all for the goal of cultivating something to last beyond you.
Setting up some shitty little altar in your living room does not mean you are a pagan. Being a pagan is not about belief, but about how you live, and the willingness to be a part of something other than yourself. Being a pagan is about adding to a group and allowing that group to prosper through building relationships, having families, and sharing amongst one another, for one another. To be bonded, attached, or joined with others of like countenance and form is how a people and a place is created. This is fundamentally tribalism, and to be a pagan is to be inherently tribal down to your very roots.
To be lukewarm on this is not even an option. The foundation is black and white. If you have no shared people, culture, or tribal territory – you are not a pagan.