Paganism is a broad term covering the many (but not all) alternative, non JCI (Judaic, Christian and Islamic) religions that self-identify as such. Now, this definition is not a very useful one, but it does illustrate how difficult it is to make definitive claims about paganism, as there are many diverse pagan religions, paths and traditions, and aside from the above, they tend not to have a lot in common.
Pagans come from all racial, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds. They are people searching for a spiritual path, and many have studied at least one other, ‘mainstream,’ religion before claiming the label of pagan. Some of these people come to pagan religions through feminism, a search for the magic of life, or through an interest in ‘green’ ideas, but many come because they feel called by ancient gods. Most pagans will say they felt ‘finally at home’ when discovering their religion.
If you think you might be pagan, the first thing to do is take a pencil and paper, and write a list of things you are searching for in a spiritual path, i.e. how you view god(s), your personal ethics, whether you prefer group or solitary structure, etc.
If someone you know is pagan, and you want to know more, the best solution is to ask them. What does their path mean to them? How do they see god? Be honest and listen without inserting your own prejudices, and you’ll find that the person will be honest and respectful back.
Most pagans believe that people have to find their own path, and so proselytism is not common in pagan religions. As many pagans have studied Christianity in some form and already come to the conclusion that it is not for them, they may dislike attempts to convert them back. Most pagans actively support religious tolerance, as discrimination against alternative religions has taught them that live and let live is a good philosophy. Discrimination tends to come from ignorance and lack of familiarity, so there is a portion of the pagan community that wants to put information on paganism out there, available to the mainstream population.
For those new to paganism and witchcraft, I highly recommend this website to start with: Seeking – First Pagan Steps and Tools
Some Pagan religions & spiritualities that have influenced my Witchcraft include:
The Church of All Worlds (CAW): an American neopagan group devoted to engaging with the Earth Mother through tribal community, stewardship of the Earth, and evolving consciousness. Founded in the 60s by a group including Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, inspired by the scifi novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein.
Druidry (Druidism): a modern nature-based spirituality arising from the 18th century Romanticist movement in Britain which revived interest in Celtic ancestry and religion.
Feri (Faery, Vicia): an initiatory form of American traditional Witchcraft. Founded by Victor and Cora Anderson, it is an ecstatic tradition placing an emphasis on sensual mysticism, paradox and personal connection to the Divine.
Reclaiming: an organisation of feminist neopagan Witchcraft that combines Goddess spirituality with political activism. Founded in the late 70s by Starhawk and Diane Baker, after the publishing of Starhawk’s book “The Spiral Dance“.
Religio Romana (Roman Paganism): the modern practice of the Religio Romana is an attempt to reconstruct the pre-Christian faith of ancient Rome as closely as possible, while making a few concessions to modern sensibilities and requirements.
Wicca (modern pagan Witchcraft, the Craft of the Wise): although many forms of religious Witchcraft use the name Wicca to refer to their path, most can be traced to the search for and revival of a British “Old Religion” as made public in the 1950s by Gerald Gardner.
For more information on paganism in general, please take a look at the following websites:
A Pagan Primer http://www.ecauldron.net/newpagan.php
Pagan Federation http://www.paganfederation.org/what-is-paganism/
Patheos Library http://www.patheos.com/Library/Pagan.html