"In the closet" and "Out of the closet"
When we talk about being "in the closet" or "out of the closet," we're talking about whether or not we're openly Pagan. It is a fact that Pagans can and do get hassled -- sorry, but the law allowing freedom of religion somehow doesn't protect people as much as you'd expect. Just ask any Muslim what it was like for them after September 11th. (I know that some weren't hassled, but virtually all I've talked to had been.) So, there are plenty of Pagans out there who are "in the closet." Some are "out of the closet" to their friends, but "in the closet" where they work and to the general public. There are also those, like myself, who are so far "out of the closet" that we couldn't find our way back into the closet if we wanted to.
Some people think that Heathen is another way of saying Pagan. I used to think so, before I started hanging out on online Pagan forums. But it turns out that while all Heathens are Pagan, not all Pagans are Heathens. Heathens specifically follow the Norse deities and practices. They might honor deities from other traditions, but it's the Norse ones who are first and foremost for them. I think that the term "Heathen" has its roots in some plant (heather?) which grows in their homeland, but I'm not sure.
I may not remember the roots of the term Heathen, but I do remember the roots of the word Pagan! :P
Originally it was an insult. I guess it is still used as an insult, by some, in today's world. Our word Pagan comes from the Latin paganus, which meant "country dweller." After the introduction of Christianity it was sort of a put down, making fun of those who clung to their "old superstitions" instead of worshipping the Christian god, since Christianity was spread more easily in the cities than in the countrysides. I'm not sure exactly how the term evolved, but somehow it changed into the modern meaning(s) for Pagan.