Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Leader Resource 2: Paganism Background

"Pagan" comes from the Latin word "paganus." Its original meaning is not clear. One way to translate it is to mean "outsider." It appears to have been used in military accounts to denote civilians (those "outside" the military) and by some writers in ancient Rome to describe people dwelling in the countryside ("outside civilization"). However, by the 5th century CE, the term "paganus" was being used to label all non-Christians. It was applied to heretics and frequently was connected to Satanism (devil worship). The word "witch," used by some Pagans today, was also considered an evil term. Many people today still connect Paganism with devil worship or evil. One definition that still exists in dictionaries is "anyone not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim." Under this definition, Buddhists and Unitarian Universalists are pagan.

"Pagan" can also be used to define ancient, polytheistic religions, like the ones that existed in Egypt, or indigenous religions, like the ones we discussed in Workshop 3. Therefore, when we talk about pagans, we need to be clear about how we are using the term.

There are many different religions that may define themselves—or be defined by others—as Pagan. One definition for "Pagan" from the Religious Tolerance website is "Wiccans and other Neo-pagans whose religion is based on the deities, symbols, practices, seasonal days of celebration, and other surviving components of ancient religions, which had long been suppressed... Some modern pagan sects are earth-centered. They focus on living in harmony with the earth and observing its cycles. Others... are deity centered." We will use this definition because, in the United States—and in our UU congregations—the Pagans we encounter will mostly be Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.

The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) is a group of UUs who theologically identify as pagans. UU congregations can have CUPPS chapters or individuals can belong to the national CUUPS organization.

Why do you think many Pagans are drawn to Unitarian Universalism?