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October 7th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Take: So who are the Druids, anyway?

Editor's Note: Philip Carr-Gomm is a writer whose books include What Do Druids Believe? and The Book of English Magic and Wild Wisdom Meditations.

By Philip Carr-Gomm, Special to CNN

The Druids have hit the headlines in the recent days because religious charity status has been granted in the UK to The Druid Network - a group set up to foster Druid values and projects.

This has caused excitement in a number of circles. Many Druids and pagans see this as a major triumph. Others are upset because they don’t think Druidry is a religion, they feel it is a philosophy or a way of life. 

And it’s worked at least one journalist into a frazzle. In The Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips revealed her disrespect and ignorance for many cultures and groups of people by writing such nonsense as "without the Judeo-Christian heritage there would be no morality and no true human rights," in a column about Druids.

While one journalist is flustered, most are simply bemused because - they don’t really know much about the Druids.

I've  written books about Druidry and help to lead the world’s largest Druid group (The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids) so allow me to give a whistle-stop tour:

About three hundred years ago, a revival of interest in the pre-Christian religion of the Druids occurred in Britain, and this gave rise to three distinct movements.

One emerged out of the growing pride in the Welsh language, was entirely cultural, and involved the use of Druid ceremonial to dignify ‘Eisteddfodau’ - festivals of literature, music and performance.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has been inducted as such an honorary Druid, as was Queen Elizabeth in 1946.

Another movement evolved as a form of fraternal association, akin to Freemasonry. At its height this Druid movement had over a million members spread across the Commonwealth and included Winston Churchill.

So much for Druidry being ‘weird’ - it has been part of mainstream British society for centuries.

The third kind of Druid to emerge has been the ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ druid, as opposed to the cultural or fraternal.

From the late 1980s this much smaller group of people has grown exponentially. The established religions were failing to speak to a new generation who longed for an approach that reverenced the Earth and Nature, and Druidry became at the turn of the century a ‘green religion’ that now has perhaps 50,000 or so followers around the world.

One of the intriguing aspects of Druidry, which gets even Druids confused and excited when they talk about it, is that it doesn’t behave in the way most religions behave. For starters, it combines effectively with other spiritual approaches: it’s non-exclusivist and universalist. I’ve met Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids and Hindu Druids.

It has no saviour figure, is light on dogma, and strong on ethical behaviour. Most religions have a magical seam running through them (if the eucharist isn’t magical I don’t what is).

But the established religions separated from both science and magic a long time ago, and relegate an interest in magic to the forbidden realm of ‘the occult’.  Druidry, by contras,t is an openly magical path - a spirituality that sees life as essentially magical and each of us as co-creators in this magic.

As such Druidry is not the recent invention of Romantics, New Agers, or Hippies, but stands in a long and historically linked line of magical schools that stretch back in time via the Victorian magicians of the Golden Dawn , the Cunning Folk of popular magic, the alchemists and Anglo-Saxon wizards to - yes - even the ancient Druids.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Philip Carr-Gomm.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Druids • Europe • Opinion • Paganism • United Kingdom

soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. Sigit

    Hey Aidrana, I appreciate the link.I just awnted to chime in and suggest my proposal was not to completely remove the ability of a given class to perform secondary roles, but that it should be limited (hunters having melee weapons removed is too limiting!). I've a list of topics to tackle, perhaps hybridization should be next. Seems to be more of a hot' topic (everything lately feels cold compared to that Skyrim buzz).Symbiosis sounds very interesting. Like all ideas though, it is the implementation that would be to look for. It looks to be a good idea, for what it's worth. Might help ease some of the problems you've identified.

    March 2, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • a cow is not a buffalo

      This is not a reply to you sig, but, since I can't find where i can leave my comment, i figure i'd leave a comment in your reply box.

      anyway, the Druids are getting far too much attention for a bunch of simpletons and barbarians. Leave it to the Europeans to find some kind of linkage to their past beyond 1600s to show they were "there as a civilization of some sort" since they couldn't lay claim to ancient Egypt (and now lay claim to Greece – which is an entirely different issue that i will not address here).

      Listen, face the fact that Europeans as we know it today did not exist as a sophisticated culture society more 500 years ago. yes, 500yrs ago. Romans are Italians and ancient Greece are Greeks. They are not Anglo Saxons, not Americans, not British nor French nor German.

      May 11, 2013 at 7:54 pm |
  2. bushidokop

    Agreed... all those who follow religious beliefs should be burned at the stake... all hail to Science and to Dawkins her prophet! /scarcasm

    October 22, 2010 at 6:28 am |
  3. JohnnyJJ

    Your look just like Corky Carrol. Surf's Up !!!!!!!!

    October 13, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  4. Coryllus

    I know what Druidry is to Carr-Gorm. For someone who runs a Ltd' company that charges flaky mugs, an exhorbitant price for a cobbled together course of old coswallop.. it's a cash cow.
    Joy and Blessings

    October 11, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  5. Mark

    Having been a Druid since the 1980's and a member of several of the larger groups of Druids since the 1990's, I am glad to see that this event has happened. I became a member of the TDN in the year 2002 and am VERY pleased to see it attain charity status with the Charity Commission.

    It is too bad that the post has become a lightning rod for Muslim, Christian, and online game enthusiasts... but oh well.... (Yes, I too play WOW just for the record... but that has nothing to do with Druidry in the slightest.)

    I have found a great deal of both sincerity and community in the Druids I have dealt with over the years. The lack of intolerance and the willingness to work together has sometimes astounded many nearby pagans of other callings. Even if you are Christian, I would still recommend looking into Druidry as it does not clash with those ideologies.

    October 9, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  6. James Carrington

    Having been a member of Philip's own Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids since 1997, and being pagan for longer than that, I'm pleased to see an article like this up, especially after Melanie Philips' load of trash. It is however a shame to see that the majority of comments left are about Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft.

    For the narrow minded out there, WoW did not base their Druids on real life, and real life Druids are not just role play enthusiasts. I would advise anyone who cannot differentiate between the two to visit Druidry.org to learn the truth about real druids.

    Blessings
    /|\

    October 9, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  7. Blaidd

    I am a Druid, but was a Christian for many years. I don't find Christians to be evil or wrong in general, and I don't try to convert them. If their religion, or anyone's religion or spiritual belief system, brings them peace and helps get them through the day, that's great. (With the caveat that their religion or system doesn't harm anyone else!)

    By Earth, Sea, and Sky /|\

    October 8, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Blaidd

      You said, "With the caveat that their religion or system doesn't harm anyone else"

      That's the rub. Most religious systems want to hurt and rule over others.

      The Christian Right wants to make this country a theocracy, with Jesus as head of state. The Christian Right would be the only ones who can hear Him. They will tell us his will.

      October 8, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  8. shekota

    thankyou for the blog. i personally believe that if a person is true to their own beliefs and lives by them they are holy. those radicals that use only minute phrases from their holy books for terrorism of mind, body, and soul should reread their holy books and realize no matter what religion ; no holy book says to take innocent lives.

    October 8, 2010 at 8:47 am |
    • David Johnson

      Dude! The Christian King James bible is filled with the taking of innocent lives.

      People find the hurtful parts so t_itillating. These are read and remembered. These pages are the most worn, in the Christian's bible. These parts are reread over and over. These parts are highlighted in yellow.

      The god of Abraham is a pis ser. He killed men, women and children, including babies.

      God is the founder of hate speech, insanely declaring gays an abomination.
      If a car is an abomination, isn't that the fault of the car maker?

      God gave instructions on slavery. He or Jesus never hinted, that maybe owning another human was wrong. The South quoted from the bible to justify slavery. It was god's will. Some people were created to be owned.

      Christians burned witches, Jews, Muslims, Cathars and Waldensians while god smiled lovingly down on them. Did it make a sweet savour unto the lord?

      Jesus made the concept of hell popular, partly as a punishment to scare people enough to stop them doing bad things, and partly to scare them off talking out against Jesus and Christianity.

      The loving baby Jesus would slow roast the people he deems deserving, for all eternity.

      Religion Poisons Everything – C. Hitchens The man is a prophet!

      October 8, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • Bob

      @David Johnson What she means is that people should read the holy books in only the most positive light. Because anything else would be absolutely wrong. You're reading the bible wrong.

      October 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Bob

      So I should read the positive parts and pretend the bad parts do not exist?

      I believe Hitler liked dogs. That is a positive. The Jew murdering thingy, I should just gloss over?

      Jesus told of a heavenly reward for born againers. I guess I should ignore the everlasting torment?

      Are we referring to the positive moral messages? Like, "do unto others"? Hmm... What about the hate messages? Ignore those?

      I find the negatives far outweigh any positives in the King James.

      October 8, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    • Tirone

      @David Johnson

      I agree. Ignoring the obvious bad parts is just insane.

      @Bob
      What possible excuse could you have for ignoring the truth? Maybe it makes you uncomfortable? Too hard to wrestle with?
      ????

      October 8, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  9. Tadg

    I'm a Druid, (yes, in world of warcraft also). I respect and follow many of the major religions in the world, but I don't have to accept the dogma. Truly, it is one of the most intelligent belief systems out there.

    October 8, 2010 at 7:11 am |
  10. jesusMFchrist

    #5....... You are a very angry individual, smoke some herb and chill. peace

    October 8, 2010 at 5:19 am |
    • Number5

      No herb here. How I would love to have some. Yes, it would help me chill, I know. It is a great mood stabilizer and safer than any pill.
      Herb being considered "evil" is just another reason to be angry. Don't worry, I've got enough anger for a couple of dozen people on almost any topic you care to name.
      Angry troll is angry.
      grr

      October 8, 2010 at 5:38 am |
  11. Mike J.

    -Number5

    So, peace 2 all gives you a compliment, and you attack him or her ?

    Dude...what is your problem? Don't think I see peace being the one who is the trol here. You though have some serius issues. Maybe take some anger managmennt classes!

    October 8, 2010 at 4:19 am |
    • Number5

      @Mike J.

      I was poking fun at peace2all. He does this sort of thing everywhere in these blogs. My attack, as you call it, was not all that nasty. Peace2all is a big boy and can take care of himself. And he IS a massive troll!

      Peace2all is like the Troll of Trolls in this blog. He's got us all beat. Just go around and look at his posts and what he says in them...
      He can't leave anything alone without making some inane comment....and he almost always ends his posts with "peace" regardless of how peaceful his posts are....you have no idea how irritating and rude that can be....and neither does he, I guess...even though plenty of people have tried to tell him....

      If he wants to force "peace" on everyone, then he better be able to take what's coming to him in return. His constant overdoing of this "peace" thing shows a definite lack of respect for others and a desire to control and quiet his victims – like smothering children to keep them from speaking out or fighting back.
      I think it's just sick.

      Now read my posts again and tell me I went completely overboard with this guy. Right.

      October 8, 2010 at 5:04 am |
    • Mike J.

      -number5

      From what i can tell peace 2 has been on these blogs a long time and I actually like his messages and comments. I mayb not always agree with him but i don't find his comments inane. so what if he wishes peace. he stating opinions like everone else and most ppeople from what i see and read agree with him. Not all but most.

      so, really disagree with your opinion of peace 2, you seem to be the one making angry insulting comment. I dont even get the smothering child thing you say. Maybe he is often right in his opinions?

      I did reread you post and you did go overboard and go after him, that wasn't cool.

      I am with Jesusmfchirst in his post, seems he and i are in agreement about you.. Dude... chill out. Stop attacking people. O.K to argue on issues but not attacking people.

      October 8, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • Cari

      Maybe, "Peace..." is just the way that peace 2 all says good bye.
      People need to stop trying to think things mean more than they do.
      Maybe it's just his/her signature.
      But #5, if you even read this, I think you might need to take a deep breathe and CALM DOWN.

      October 16, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  12. Stephanie

    Tolerance and respect, if not kindness, please. It isn't religion that poisons the world, it's the demagoguery about it. Although I'm a Bard, (a novice Druid) I don't feel the need to convert anyone to Druidry, nor do I feel the need to ridicule their beliefs– or their video games. Let us all be at peace.

    October 7, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
    • Wraithian

      They fear the dogma associated with religion, Stephanie, and understandibly so. However, it's easier to mock than to try to understand. Druidry is probably the *least* dogmatic, "faith," out there.

      Ya never read about a Druid blowing up a market/bus station/subway or firebombing an abortion clinic... 😉

      ...still an Ovate... 😀

      October 7, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • Number5

      @Stephanie

      Can you separate the believer from their belief system?

      Maybe if you were to think of religion as being a computer program that cannot run without the hardware...and this bad computer program is functionally insane, so if I were to say that this "computer program" is malware that poisons the world – would you get a better idea of how religion works upon the human psyche?

      You try to say that demagoguery is the tool when it is just a particular form of expression of the underlying insanity. Religion is insane. Facts and truth and honesty do not require a religion to exist.

      We will all "be at peace" when we are dead. Life is too diverse and the universe will not "respect" your intentions.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Number5

      Well said..

      Peace...

      October 8, 2010 at 1:03 am |
    • Number5

      @peace2all

      So you are wishing me the peace of death? What a waste of time. We all come to it in the end.
      I'm glad you like my post, but I could have said it better. Haste can make waste.

      October 8, 2010 at 3:01 am |
    • peace2all

      @Number5

      Actually I wasn't wishing you "the peace of death"... Unless that is what you wish. I was complementing you on what I thought was nicely played metaphor regarding attempting to separate people from their beliefs, using the analogy of computers and their hardware, etc... Plus the insidious underlying insanity that religion and its effects on people and the world at large.

      That was it..... I did not see your post as a waste...

      I do wish you peace...NOW... and at your death, whenever that may be...

      Peace...

      October 8, 2010 at 3:25 am |
    • Number5

      LOL

      peace2all, you really are an easy target..LOL...your posts tend to make me shake my head...you are such a troll....!

      October 8, 2010 at 3:52 am |
  13. DigbyCS

    Who cares? Just another cult to put on the list of belief systems that need to be eradicated from human society.
    Cults are like c0ckroaches, always breeding more suffering than help for their fellow human beings.

    Stamp out religion. Insanity has done quite enough already. It's long past time to end the madness called religion.

    October 7, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
    • Wick

      Let's make a cult here on CNNs belief blog. We will post multiple times to show our devotion to CNN. Oh, wait...

      October 7, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
  14. Muneef

    Not every thing that shines is Gold.
    It would have been better if this new religion was researched and extracted from the orginal three religions rather than one from nothing?
    But the most important now is Quran Sura03:07 which tells us that in the Holy Books there are locked verses and other that look a like, it says sick hearts had followed to dispute the look a like... Well some thing like that but may understand more reading from translated copy of Quran.
    Now why not youngsters that attracted to science research and study the locked verses in all known holy books in to one:
    -One Master Christian holy book 
    -One Master Judos holy book
    Then both studied and revised with the Holy Quran finding real differences and work out to solve it finding the truth for the sake of truth only through the use of science that they speak of rather than worshiping it?!
    Hope having not offended any one with my comments.Regards            
        

    October 7, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
    • Wraithian

      The, "original three," is an ignorant statement. There were many religions around before the dawn of the Abrahamic religions. Do your homework. If you would have said, "the big three," or even, "the popular three," I may have some respect, but to say, "the *original* three..." That's just idiotic.

      Put down the Quran and read a book based on real history for once.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
    • Muneef

      They three are the only heavenly religions that there are. So guess you understood now what or which I meant unless you want me to add all those who worship animals and trees? So think before you comment it was good for you that I am not in a bad mood otherwise my comments would have been different.

      October 8, 2010 at 6:09 am |
    • Muneef

      History is told and written by man but as to Quran it is the words of God.

      October 8, 2010 at 6:12 am |
    • Wraithian

      It was good for me that you are in a good mood, eh? No, to be honest, your words don't much matter to me on a personal level (that, and I don't bow to threats).

      And no, your Quran, just like every other holy book in existance, ever written, ever *will* be written, has and will be written by the hands of men.

      The thing is... Do we, as people, take these holy texts written by the hands of men as literal, unswaying, dogmatic ways of life and create strife with our fellow men, or do we take what these holy books teach regarding morals, love, and forgiveness to get along with and better understand our fellow man?

      Just because I have no love for your heaven does not mean I have no love for the people in it.

      October 8, 2010 at 9:27 am |
    • Muneef

                      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful   
      As for the Disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not. (6) Allah hath sealed their hearing and their hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom. (7) And of mankind are some who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day, when they believe not. (8) They think to beguile Allah and those who believe, and they beguile none save themselves; but they perceive not. (9)In their hearts is a disease, and Allah increaseth their disease. A painful doom is theirs because they lie. (10) And when it is said unto them: Make not mischief in the earth, they say: We are peacemakers only. (11) Beware ! They indeed are the mischief-makers. But they perceive not. (12) And when it is said unto them: believe as the people believe, they say: shall we believe as the foolish believe? are not hey indeed the foolish? But they know not. (13) And when they fall in with those who believe, they say: We believe; but when they go apart to their devils they declare: Lo! we are with you; verily we did but mock. (14) Allah (Himself) doth mock them, leaving them to wander blindly on in their contumacy. (15) These are they who purchase error at the price of guidance, so their commerce doth not prosper, neither are they guided. (16)
      Sura 02:06 to 16.

                      In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
      Say (O Muhammad, to mankind): Who is an enemy to Gabriel! For he it is who hath revealed (this Scripture) to thy heart by Allah's leave, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, and a guidance and glad tidings to believers; (97) Who is an enemy to Allah, and His angels and His messengers, and Gabriel and Michael! Then, lo! Allah (Himself) is an enemy to the disbelievers. (98)Verily We have revealed unto thee clear tokens, and only miscreants will disbelieve in them. (99) Is it ever so that when they make a covenant a party of them set it aside? The truth is, most of them believe not. (100) And when there cometh unto them a messenger from Allah, confirming that which they possess, a party of those who have received the Scripture fling the Scripture of Allah behind their backs as if they knew not, (101)
      Sura 02:97 to 101   

      October 8, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • Muneef

      @Wraithian.
      Sorry threat was not intended at all and not logical as well.

      I liked what you wrote last about being source of morals,love and all to mankind although as it seems not possible to achieve with out having the dominant religions agree to resolve their disputed differences.
      My believe is that there will always be discrimination if not religion then would racism or many other reasons.
      Any way understand that your holy books are just as Hadith in ours and that means some one said that the prophet said this and that beside having them translated from many languages had changed exact meanings, So is it like that? As for
      Quran it was to one man repeating words to another to write in one language that is still live and translation can be revised corrected if any mistakes causing you to miss understand it..? Do not know what to say really except I am not seeing any thing that threaten you from the Quran or Islam since God only mentioned where things went wrong and what should have been done to be right and that's and says that all will be looked upon judgment day and never told Muslims to pressure or force or kill people to become Muslims, never said that, it only says about defense against those conspire against Islam and Muslims. Guess here that each religion has two faces one is Face of Light and the other is face of Dark for which we are to follow the Face of Light and leave out the dark face, but we cannot blame the whole religion if the dark face was the cause of distress. So how do you propose resolving the pending issues to reach your suggestion other than elimination or extermination of the whole nation as one suggested in his posts??

      October 8, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • Mark

      Muneef..... Druidry predates Islam by over 3000 years. Druidry predates Christianity by 3600 years. Even the Jewish faith is merely as old as Druidry at best. If anything the three dominant world religion have a lot to learn from what Druidry was and is...

      October 9, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Wraithian

      Muneef,

      The only real answer I can give to your question of, "what do we do," would be to understand that not any, single religion is 100% right, 100% pure... But all of them, the acts and values of forgiveness, honor, love, have their place. It's going to take more of the moderates, those, as you put it, of Light, to deal with the extremists, also as you put it, the Dark. Please do not think I am singling out Islam in this, as that is not the case–there are extremists in all theologies, in all ideologies.

      Balance in all things.

      October 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.