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I actually had this come up recently in my sons preschool class. The teacher and I were talking about it and I was trying to explain to her how we practiced. As we are a multi-faith family it was kinda confusing. lol.
Anyways, for *me* and how I explained it, its an umbrella term that includes most nature based religions.
Anything further would depend on who I am talking to and how much they *really* wanted to know. For some pagan is anything other than the Abrahamic faiths, but I have met a few Buddhists who disagree and don't consider themselves "pagan".
Id say its an umbrella term used, primarily, for faiths outside the abrahamic beliefs(Islam, Jew, Christian).
Id say they are usually nature based faiths where most believe in a Higher Power and in the energy of everything living that surrounds us but it varies by the individual because it can be a very individual path.
To the newbie...Id say read, ask questions, make a list of what you do and dont believe, and follow your heart and instinct. When you find that peace and joy that you've never experienced before then you've hit the right area. Keep growing and studying and dont be afraid of the journey. Its an individual one and noone can tell you that you are wrong or should feel guilt or fear for any reason. Enjoy the journey!
I'd say that it's a nature based faith, sometimes incorporating praise on Gods/Goddesses (but doesn't necessarily require it), and is generally an umbrella term that can mean many things to many different people.
I'm always hesitant to use the original meaning of anything outside Abrahamic faiths, because, like Tuatha had said, a lot of people don't actually agree with the term, and I've never been a fan of forcing labels on people.
I think when it comes to the VERY basics of the definition of Pagan... a slightly altered version of the "non-Abrahamic religions" definition fits best: "a practitioner of a spirituality or religion that is not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim AND (here's the embellishment) the practitioner self-identifies as a Pagan."
That's the most basic definition, in my opinion.
More specifically... a Pagan or Neopagan is typically (though not always) a practitioner of an Earth-based spirituality or religion. Many or most Pagans follow some form of polytheism (soft or hard, duotheism, henotheistic, etc etc), though they can span the entire spectrum of beliefs about the Divine. From Atheistic, to Pantheistic, to Deist, to Monotheist, to Polytheist, etc. Many or most Pagans also practice some form of spiritual "magic" or energy work.
Sometimes I'm a smart ***, and just say well the simple definition of a pagan is a common person....
But of course that doesn't seem to settle well with most, so I explain that it is an umbrella term similar to how Christianity is, but the denominations/faith/spiritual paths that are under it vary widely with majority of them being earth based religions/faiths, believing in one or many gods/goddesses etc. And then just take it from there with the questions.
Surprisingly enough I rarely get asked about it and I'm not in the closet, but I'm not really verbal about it either, unless I am asked. But all my profiles online state that I am pagan, and IRL no one has ever approached me about it or treated me differently.