I was at a Pagan May celebration recently. There was a quest through the woods with a Magic Flute theme, Morris Dancers, a May pole, and even belly dancers. Sometimes it seems as though Pagan is a catch all term for anything not born of Judaism (including Islam and Christianity -- the religions of the Book).

While for some Paganism does present an alternative to the more mainstream religions with which they've become disillusioned, and while non-Book religions like Buddhism are popular with many folk who consider themselves to be Pagan (the reverse also being true), Paganism does have some defining characteristics.

One of the reasons it seems to stand in opposition to the religions of the Book is that Paganism is based largely upon European beliefs which predate Christianity's evangelization of Europe. These beliefs were typically pantheistic, and greater value was placed upon the feminine principal, and harmony with nature.

Or so Pagans believe. One problem with the attempt to recover these beliefs is that pre-Christian Europe was 'pre-literate', and the histories we have are those written first by the Romans (the conquerors) and later by the Christians (the missionaries). There are no clear historical accounts of this period from an indigenous perspective. Consequently, contemporary Paganism is to a large extent a reconstruction based on clues found through archaeology, and reading between the lines of the records of the conquerors and missionaries. Early Christian Europe was qualitatively different from that in Rome due to the pervasive influence of indigenous beliefs.

On an experiential level, however, it is possible to have a reverence for nature and a respect for both the feminine and masculine principals. Consequently the veracity of the historical details may be secondary to the essence of Paganism.