The word "pagan" comes from the Latin ‘paganus’, originally meaning "country-dweller" or "rustic" but the term ‘neo-pagan’ appeared first in the 19th century in reference to Renaissance and the classical revival where culture was challenged with a new way of thinking. It has found particular growth in the USA and Britain, but also in many parts of Europe.
Many neo-pagan religions observe spirituality that is very modern in origin, while others tend to focus on trying to accurately revive traditional, ethnic religions as can often be found referenced in historical texts and in folklore worldwide, these group often reject the ‘neo’ part of the title as it is seen to modernise their objective unnecessarily . The largest neo-pagan religion today is ‘Wicca’ – a form of modern witchcraft, but there are other significantly sized neo-pagan faiths which include Neo-druidism who draw on several belief systems and inspirations from the ancient Druids and Germanic Neo-paganism which has really grown since the 1970s.
The fundamental beliefs of neo-pagan faiths are those of peace, ritual, tradition and a reverence for nature, although many groups practice polytheism – a belief in multiple deities – the figure of a ‘Mother Earth’ or ‘Gaia’ goddess is usually the most revered, associated with fertility, growth and rebirth. The misguided, ignorant view of many is that ‘Satanism’ or ‘devil-worship’ is involved in pagan rituals, these are fundamentally Christian ‘inventions’ and have no recognition in the belief systems of any pagan faith. Many neo-pagan religions incorporate the use of ceremony and magic into their ritual practices and these are more often than not observed outdoors to encompass the power of nature and the moon. There seems to have been a sort of neo-pagan revival in the 1960s and 1970s - Wicca especially was influenced by feminism.
During the 1980s there was the popular use of the term ‘new-age’ to describe neo-pagan groups and many festivals began to appear to bring people together. Today, any new religion that encompasses nature-worship and/or pantheism (the view that the nature and God are as one) are grouped under the umbrella term of neo-paganism. The development and rapid growth of the internet in the 1990s has aided the spread of the religion throughout the world as people from different countries communicate and share their beliefs on a wider scale.