Paganism is a term that developed among the Christian community of southern Europe during late antiquity to describe religions other than their own, Judaism, orIslam–the three Abrahamic religions. Throughout Christendom, it continued to be used, typically in a derogatory sense. In the 19th century, it was re-adopted as a self-descriptor by members of various artistic groups inspired by the ancient world. In the20th century, it came to be applied as a self-description by practitioners ofcontemporary pagan, or neo-pagan, religious movements.
Modern knowledge of old pagan religions comes from several sources, including:anthropological field research records, the evidence of archaeological artifacts, and the historical accounts of ancient writers regarding cultures known to the classical world. Before the rise of monotheistic religions, most people practiced some type of polytheism. Many of these religions started to die out, and eventually they became extinct. In some cases, elements of polytheistic belief systems continued to exist infolklore. Paganism would later be studied during the Renaissance and Romantic era. Forms of these religions, influenced by various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe, exist today and are known as contemporary or modern paganism, also referred to as Neo-paganism.
It is crucial to stress right from the start that until the 20th century people did not call themselves pagans to describe the religion they practised. The notion of paganism, as it is generally understood today, was created by the early Christian Church. It was a label that Christians applied to others, one of the antitheses that were central to
the process of Christian self-definition. As such, throughout history it was generally used in a derogatory sense.
— Owen Davies, 2011