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Michele Renee Salzman

The Latin word paganus (pagan), which originally meant “a country district or community,” could take on a more general sense as “a place with fixed boundaries.” From this early meaning, paganus evolved to mean civilian as opposed to military. Its application by Christians to those who were not of their faith has been explained variously. Some scholars derive its Christian usage based on the association of pagans with the countryside, while others see Christians using the term for the civilians as opposed to “soldiers of Christ.” Only in the 4th century do the words pagan and paganism (paganismus) emerge with the general meaning of “non-Christian.” Some scholars dispute the pejorative nature of the term at this date, but non-Christians were increasingly attacked by hostile 4th-century Christian writers. Because of this enmity and due to the misleading denigration of non-Christians as pagans, some modern scholars have refused to use the term pagan or paganism in their works. Others, however, view its usage as justified, especially given the hostility of late Roman Christians to non-believers.

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Corinne Ondine Pache

That a human being might become possessed by a supernatural power was a fairly common ancient belief. The effect might be a sudden change in behavior, the altered state of consciousness associated with Dionysiac ritual, or a prophetic frenzy as in the case of a divinely inspired trance (see Delphic oracle). Plato (Phaedr. 244a ff., esp. 265a-c) distinguishes between prophetic (mantikê, inspired by Apollo), mystical (telestikê, inspired by Dionysus), poetic (inspired by the Muses), and erotic (inspired by Aphrodite and Eros) possession. Sources also differentiate between unprompted possession and possession sought through ritual, as in the case of the Pythia at Delphi who became ἔνθεος (“inspired” or “filled with a god”) and whose body became a medium for the god’s voice.Words such as θεόληπτος, θεοφόρητος, or κάτοχος (expressing the notion “possessed by (a) god”), carried an ambivalent meaning. On the one hand, they referred to terrifying pathological experiences, such as epileptic strokes or various types of insanity. On the other hand, possession involved direct contact with a god and thus could effect a kind of sacralization. Socrates mentions the possibility of becoming “seized by the nymphs” (νυμφόληπτος) while conversing in a sanctuary dedicated to nymphs (Phaedr.