October 2nd, 2010
03:47 PM ET

Britain recognizes Druidry as religion for first time, gives it charitable status

CNN's Phil Gast filed this report:

Britain recognized Druidry, an ancient belief that worships deities that take different forms in nature, as a religion for the first time and gave it charitable status on Saturday.

"There is a sufficient belief in a supreme being or entity to constitute a religion for the purposes of charity law," declared the Charity Commission for England and Wales in response to the Druid Network's application.

The decision will give the neo-pagan religion, known for its cloaked worshippers at Stonehenge (above, in 1999) and other sites, tax advantages and is expected to lead to broader acceptance.

"This has been a long hard struggle taking over five years to complete," said the Druid Network, which is based in England, in a statement on its website.

In some ways, Druidry in Britain is catching up to Druids and other neo-pagans in the United States, which already provides tax-exempt status for religious groups, said Marty Laubach, Associate Professor of Sociology at Marshall University.

The British commission noted that Druidry "is animistic and based on a belief that everything has a spiritual dimension." It also said that the religion recognizes deities within nature and conducts worship ceremonies.

The Druid Network, which has about 350 members, sought charitable status for "the advancement of religion for public benefit and no other purpose," the commission said in its ruling.

Druidry has no asserted dogma, the network said in its application. It added that members associate their gods with the moon, fertility, rain, love and other forces.

Druids were members of the learned class among ancient Celts, acting as priests, judges and teachers. They performed human and animal sacrifices and worshiped in forests in western Europe, Britain and Ireland.

Neo-pagan groups are growing in the United States, the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found.

Such groups include Druids and Wiccans, along with voodoo and other belief systems, Laubach said.

"It's a quintessentially American religion in that it is a highly individualistic religion," Laubach said of neo-paganism.

Marshall, in Huntington, West Virginia, allows students to miss classes to observe pagan and other religious holidays.

Neo-pagans seek to communicate with spirits, but witchcraft is not Satanic because its believers don't recognize the Satan of Christianity, Judaism or Islam, Laubach said.

Many people look at Satanic worshippers and neo-pagans "as a bunch of people dancing in the forest" without realizing the distinction, said Douglas E. Cowan, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

"We often tend to be demonized," said Laubach, a member of the neo-pagan movement, indicating Britain's decision is a "form of legitimacy."

Neo-pagans tend to be sensitive to the environment, with many rituals held outside, said Cowan and Laubach.

"They realize we are part of a living system," said Cowan.

"There is a huge festival movement," Laubach added. "The earth is the mother that supports us."

Britain's Druid Network says public misconceptions about some of its practices persist.

"While sacrifice is a core notion within most spiritual traditions, within Druidry it is confused by historical accounts of the killing of both human and animal victims," the network said in its application to the British commission. "No such practice is deemed acceptable within modern Druidry."

"What is sacrificed within the tradition today," the application says, "is that which we value most highly in life and hold to with most passion: time, security, certainty, comfort, convenience, ignorance and the like."

Modern pagans may not be as restrictive on issues such as sex as other religions "but [their] groups evolve social controls," Cowan said.

"You've got people bringing their kids to events," he said.

Cowan said it's not clear if the growth of Druidry - which he calls nowhere near as influential as the rapid growth of Christian Pentacostalism and Islam - is the rekindling or reinvention of the faith.

Regardless, Druids in Britain, unlike their North American counterparts, don't feel as marginalized by mainstream Christianity, he said.

"They have done the most to bridge the gap between Christian and non-Christian groups in Britain," Cowan said.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Druids • Europe • Paganism • United Kingdom

soundoff (829 Responses)
  1. game kid

    I'm all for this. We've had more than enough shunning and persecution in the world, and all they want is to serve their gods and their environment in their way. As long as they're not harassing people during mealtime like certain other groups I won't name here, just treat theirs like any other religion and let 'em be.

    Besides, that cloak-and-staff getup is awesome.

    October 3, 2010 at 1:59 am |
  2. bwana

    It is about bloody time that ALL mythologies are recognized! It is totally not fair only the big money religions are deemed to be tax exempt...

    October 3, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  3. Data

    Fresh Air At last ....................................

    October 3, 2010 at 1:05 am |
  4. TheRationale

    I can't wait until Pastafarianism becomes accepted as a religion – it's just as valid as the rest.

    October 3, 2010 at 12:37 am |
  5. TheRationale

    I can't wait until Pastafarianism becomes an accepted religion. It's just as valid as the rest.

    October 3, 2010 at 12:36 am |
  6. Allen

    Sounds like Westenization of Shinto.

    October 3, 2010 at 12:22 am |
  7. sojac

    Now all they need to do is set up the Jedi order, no but that cool

    October 3, 2010 at 12:16 am |
  8. deepwater805

    Thanks you UK!!! Finally Polytheism gets its due! Maybe now I can finally get my religion recognized. I worship Toe-Jam, and since I have nine and a half toes, I see it as Polytheist. This is just so wonderful....I'm getting a little emotional right now....

    October 3, 2010 at 12:16 am |
  9. TrueBlue42

    There is no god, fool.

    October 3, 2010 at 12:10 am |
    • Thorrsman

      Can you provide proof of that, or is it merely your personal religious belief?

      October 3, 2010 at 12:16 am |
  10. zantron

    i think this is great. in my eyes its just as legit as the abrahmic religions, if not moreso. right now its followers do it free of political interests and without it being forced upon them by society.

    October 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  11. shecky

    i do not support any theism personally, BUT mick, it was stated in the article that they believe in natural forces and worship them, on occasion at stonehenge. you are merely protesting their location as far as i can see. maybe you would feel better if they stayed 12 metres from stonehenge during their evil worship ritual? i do apologize for this next statement. belief in nature is basically required at some level if you in fact chose to live.

    October 2, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  12. What?

    "we all need something we can lean on, and if you need someone, well you can lean on me" –mick jagger

    October 2, 2010 at 11:36 pm |
  13. Jason

    Animalism is also a shared trait with some Native American spiritual beliefs.

    October 2, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  14. JamesNM

    Hmmm, seems humans are moving backwards rather than forwards.

    October 2, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  15. Perfecti

    Spanish Inquisition,The Crusades, and the storming of Montsegur (the slaughter of Cathars) are a few examples of Catholic and Christian greed. Now-a-days if a religion decides to take up arms against another religion not of their own it's a violation of human rights. If any of the 3 above events occurred in present times their would be a massive uprising and ensuing war.

    October 2, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
    • shecky

      well the incidents you describe were already war ... so do you mean a conflict increase or something? war is nothing more than saying 'you suck' and deciding to beat them for proof rather than discussing it

      October 2, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  16. hellbent


    October 2, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  17. CatholicAvenger

    I'm confused, now. I've been Catholic all my life, and just recently accepted Druidism in some of my practices. Now that it is a religion, I don't know whether to accept it or not.

    @Anti-religious people,
    "Religion is man-made used to take the people's money, spread fear, and control the masses."
    That sounds like our government, doesn't it? You attack our religions by demanding their churches to pay taxes to corrupt systems who waste our hard earned money for their own personal gain? That only proves that atheism is belief in close-mindedness

    October 2, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
    • shecky

      i cant speak 'in the know' about catholicism. tell you what though. attempt in a personal way to place a relevance level to your relationship with ' religion' to the relevance level of your life day by day. in the end i would hope that A: you realize that religion is personal B: religion is wholly subjective C: religion does not keep food on your table. work on ways of improving the food on your table. when time allows work on ways of improving the food on your neighbors table, your friends table, your enemies table. you'll realize that monetary economy is just as subjective as religion is. i wont ask you to join the club, you will through your own personal motivation. 🙂

      October 2, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
    • CatholicAvenger


      October 2, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  18. hellbent

    We need no religion.

    October 2, 2010 at 10:57 pm |
  19. LG

    Those out there – Islamic, Christian, etc., – who have no qualms about shaking their fingers at others and neo-religions listen up! Politics, corruption and war due to modern religions is why people are leaning back towards older religions. Churches/temples are all big businesses, period. People are TIRED of hearing about how they're not good enough, God is angry, God hates, blah blah blah. People are trying to go back to the beginning before all the corruption and abuse started. That's why I see so many people lose the congregation – but keep their faith.

    Welcome to the future of spirituality.

    October 2, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
    • shecky

      spirituality is at heart a 'personal issue'

      October 2, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
    • Tell_Me

      'Dem spirits'll getcha...

      (10-02) 14:37 PDT Fremont, Calif. (AP) –

      Police say a Fremont woman has been scammed out of $5,000 in cash and jewelry by two people who promised to cleanse her valuables of evil through the power of prayer.

      Fremont police spokesman Bill Veteran says the 38-year-old woman had taken her valuables and cash to an abandoned home to be used in a spiritual ritual.

      October 3, 2010 at 12:00 am |
  20. Callie McKenna

    Raising my glass in a toast to the Brits. This is great news!

    October 2, 2010 at 10:44 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.