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. shawn

    God, Buddha, flying spaghetti monster.... whatever you need.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:02 am |
    • G

      Pastafarianism is the way to go.

      October 3, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  2. Paresh Savla

    Druids religion is nothing but Hinduism. Finally Britians are converting themselves to Hindus.

    Hindu's Believe the same and that's why they worship Gods like Varun ( Air ) , Agni ( Fire ) ,
    Trees , Rivers , Surya , Chandra ( moon ) etc.

    Jay Ho

    October 3, 2010 at 4:01 am |
    • Frank

      The British aren't converting to anything. They're becoming yet another secular apathetic to others/hedonistic toward themselves (just don't talk about God to me) country. In order words, they're becoming like us.

      October 3, 2010 at 4:05 am |
  3. jr

    i dont know how people can be so ignorant? saying that GOD gave us trees, Yahweh gave us oxygen etc etc. PROVE IT?! MAN wrote those books, there is enough drama even in regarding the relgion of christianity alone, a newer religion in comparison to many. how people do not believe evolution to be true is beyond me, i will never put faith in something that i cannot see with my own two eyes. Praying to a god that has no proof of existion, never showing a face. you say this PERSON gave us all of these things, that is the issue. mankind is NOT meant to be the worlds superior race and species. we are supposed to be in an iceage curretly, but due to human activity the world cannot even follow its natural trends. we put all of this faith in a power we cannot see and we do not realize that in 100,000 years, we may not be here. we are fighting over relgious battles that have no proof to ever be real. yes there are amazing people in time, jesus, a good man, but a man none the less. we make him into a diety because he shows sacrifice, but he is a human. and now we follow him and what we thoue were taught to believe, many of the bibles being written and re-written and updated as time goes on. we discriminate against people who are how nature intended them to be because of a man who lived in a time where modern society could only be a dream to the absolute dreamer. i dont understand how we can be so naive and can continue to pray to anything other than what we know, which is what we can see, hear and feel, which is nature in its true form, which we as a species are destroying for companys that will not exist in a thousand years. i dont get it. a bit of a rant, i apologize for that

    October 3, 2010 at 4:01 am |
  4. Kenrick Benjamin

    There is only one religion with different belief systems (monotheistic and poloytheistic). Monotheistic is the belief in one true God, while poloytheistic is the belief in many Gods, in which that one true God can be found.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:00 am |
  5. Ed

    As long as they don't kill anything and behave in a more civil manner than centuries ago they have a sound basis. Nature controls more than we can comprehend and they take nature to be god, which is what he rules, so they're on the cusp of beliefs. Nature more or less has us here as temporary guests and supports life as we know it. It's kind of bare bones but it has a bona fide extremely ancient basis.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:49 am |
  6. Eric Nicolas

    So – there's a good chance my plan to bring back Greek polytheism will succeed! Everyone start reading Homer.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:40 am |
  7. Mike

    If this doesn't pull Spinal Tap out of retirement, nothing will...

    October 3, 2010 at 3:36 am |
  8. josh

    yea druism or whatever.the belief in many deities.same crap as voodo or santeria.sad that the world knowing who the true god is still wants to worship the creatures instead of the creator.deities that manifest themselves thru nature or the elements.oh sons of God how have you fallen,the gods that did not create the heavens or the earth,but they themselves were created.use whatever power you have left to lead astray as many as the lord God has rebuked for they did not want to belief the truth and rather believed a lie.for your days are but numbered until the day that the lord has appointed as the the great day of the lord.when both fallen angel and man will be judged and the stars(angels)will fall from heaven(detroned).and I will stain my sword with blood both in heaven and earth says the lord.he that has ears listen what the spirit says.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:36 am |
    • OhMy

      Yes, Sweetness, you da' man (shudder) - except:

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. – Carl Sagan

      You don't have it.

      October 3, 2010 at 3:51 am |
  9. bailoutsos

    They should go back to Druidia.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:32 am |
  10. dongfanghong

    Ever notice how it's the 3 Abrahamic religions that constantly fight over religion? What's wrong with you kids?

    October 3, 2010 at 3:28 am |
  11. Sandra

    It's about time that one of the many religions that predate Christianity and other bible based religions have been given back their rightful status. For those who think it's all a 'crock' or 'hokum', there are religions that say the same about your beliefs.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:21 am |
  12. xocanin

    Look at all the grownups arguing about their imaginary friends. How cute.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:20 am |
  13. DC

    Sounds like a very comforting and fulfilling and fun religion. Of course I'm assuming that the animal/human sacrifice went the way of the Jewish old testament rituals.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:06 am |
  14. beth sobredo

    May I just ask – When was Catholicism started? Who's its founder? Was it Constantine the Roman Emperor, who was a pagan until his death.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:01 am |
  15. kiby

    rather stupid. may as well be the Renaissance Faire. No one alive knows much of anything about Druidry. Few if any historical accounts exist. The Druid stronghold was destroyed by the Romans long ago. So, what these people do and what they believe has no basis, except in their minds, with anything related to genuine Druidism. Really, we indulge nonsense too much in the name of tolerance. They people are plain goofy wannabes.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  16. beth sobredo

    may I just ask- when did Catholicism start? and who founded it? Was it Constantine the Roman Emperor who was pagan until his death.

    October 3, 2010 at 2:59 am |
    • Frank

      Who started Catholicism? Jesus Christ. Who was the first Pope? St. Peter. The naysayers will say otherwise, OF COURSE.

      October 3, 2010 at 3:06 am |
  17. Dave

    Who cares ! 🙂

    October 3, 2010 at 2:51 am |
  18. Brian

    "The edict by Constantine did not only protect Christians from religious persecution, but all religions, allowing anyone to worship whichever deity they choose.".....

    If you know your history you know it's more complicated than that. After Constantine's edict Christians persecuted other religions.

    October 3, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  19. ChristianinTexas

    When Jesus was crucified on the cross, he thought about each and every one of us and asked God the Father to forgive us.

    Thank you Lord for loving us unconditionally and am looking forward to your Son's return.

    October 3, 2010 at 2:06 am |
  20. cap'tain stoner

    how about recognizing the Rastafarian Religion as a true religion ?

    October 3, 2010 at 2:00 am |
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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.