Pagan was a term that originally simply meant country dweller. In the fourth century, early Christians began using it to describe people in the Roman Empire who practiced polytheism. Of course, it had become a pejorative to describe any kind of polytheism in much the same way as the ancient Israelites labeled non-Israelites as idol-worshippers. During the period beginning with the fall of the Roman Empire, commonly referred to as the start of the Middle Ages, the term paganism was applied to any unfamiliar religion and the term presumed a belief in false gods. It’s basically the may the majority segment of the population assures itself of it’s own superiority by labeling the ways of others as somehow inferior, thus they are superior by comparison.
In the 900 years since the beginning of the Middle Ages, things haven’t changed all that much. The Massachusetts which trials occurred in the 1690’s and the famous British Witchcraft Act of 1735 was barely 40 years later. Though the interesting thing about the Witchcraft Act was its leniency. It actually abolished the hunting and execution of witches in Great Britain and established a maximum penalty of one year. I suppose I should consider that progress. However, the Witchcraft Act was not finally repealed until 1951.
In the contemporary Western world you can’t go to jail for professing any kind of pagan beliefs, but religious persecution is still alive and well even in the more progressive counties. So how are pagans of any stripe seen today by non pagans? In my experience there are in general two ways that pagans are viewed by the non pagan world. The one regard pagans as true evil, satan in the flesh, devil worships. This point of view is ironic since in order to worship the devil the first thing you must do is belief that there is such an entity as the devil and the only ones I know of who believe that are Christians, typically those very Christians who believe that pagans worship the devil. But that attitude does not characterize all or even most Christians nor does it characterize most other folks outside of the pagan pale. For those other folks, pagans are simply misguided, woo woo and not really capable of serious thinking (at least not in the theological plane).
The former description perhaps to folks with an unnaturally occurring cruel streak, the kind of personality that makes worshipping the fictitious devil seem altogether appealing, but it does not does not describe real pagans.
So what are modern pagans really like? I hate to disappoint you, the reality is that they are really just like everybody else. The only real difference is they are just committed to a different spiritual path. A let down, I know, but here’s the scoop. And making any generations about pagans is always a bit risky, I’m going to go ahead and put my foot in it anyway. Pagan spiritual paths are earth centered, meaning pagans as a whole are more likely to be concerned about the environment then the general population taken as a whole. The appreciation of green spaces, forests, rivers, ocean and mountain tops and activities intended to preserve them is generally higher on a pagan’s agenda than that of the greater human population.
Other than that, most pagans probably have at least a high school education, some went to college and of those, some went to a graduate school for yet a higher degree than a Bachelors. Most pagans are loving, caring individuals. Most are married. Some are divorced. And still some have been married more than once. Some have anger issues. Some do not. My point is that pagans are otherwise pretty much like everyone else and urban myths about pagans somehow different than everyone else are simply made up and sadly too often repeated fictional stories.