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. Dennis

    funny, she doesn't look druidish.

    October 3, 2010 at 5:39 am |
  2. Limbaugh is a liberal

    At least it's not like one of those dozens of religions founded by Americans we see every year that marry children to elderly men or mandate everyone to commit suicide because they think the world is going to end tomorrow... or the day after that... or the day after that...

    October 3, 2010 at 5:39 am |
  3. dokdo keeper

    religion get power-power get greed/lust- make struggle-get insanity-break war-suffer-look for religious shelter- peace time-ger power-lusty-power struggle-–vicious cycle
    the vicious cycle made by region
    live in peace by no interference each other
    people believe in their belief what they like
    Every ligion say that all perish who does not believe in their own religion.
    But suppose a man/woman born in very remote place like high Himalaya.
    Will this man/woman perish though he/she has no chance to know of any religion.
    He/she will live happily with what nature give them.

    October 3, 2010 at 5:36 am |
  4. Peter E

    I am amused by all the condescending comments from my fellow Americans... a country where we found a religion every week, while treating world religions like Catholicism as somekind of fringe sect. And we are the stronghold of protestanism, which believes that religion, and the Bible should be personally interpreted by everyone... (as long as that personal interpretation is the same as your favorite political pundit) But go ahead with your hypocritical criticisms, if it makes you feel better about your own religion.

    October 3, 2010 at 5:35 am |
  5. jb

    I wonder how long before body start appearing next to the stonehenge again...

    October 3, 2010 at 5:28 am |
  6. Mike

    If it is reasonable to worship a religion where everyone is made from dirt, it seems okay to just worship dirt directly. Carry on!

    October 3, 2010 at 5:25 am |
  7. huxley

    Finally its legal to dance naked at midnght under the moon and hunt your enemies down with a pack of rabid wolves while wearing a dear head mask.

    What? It's still illegal?

    October 3, 2010 at 5:22 am |
  8. Young Sinatra

    Now they can raise money for a NEW stonehenge:) I think they out grew the other one by now and it's kinda old. Probably doesen't pass building codes now:)

    October 3, 2010 at 4:47 am |
  9. Tim

    For the record, Hinduism is not polytheism. It is pantheism, possibly panentheism. It means that it believes that "god" is all there is. As such, all that we see and experience – including ourselves and others – IS "god"; although it obviously means a very different understanding of what "god" is about. No, it does not mean that you're a supergod type of being. What it means is that the Divine is in all things. Hence, one does not see something else as being a god; rather, one sees the god in all things. Namaste.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:44 am |
    • Frank

      Hinduism is not pantheistic. It is henotheistic. They believe that the deities of the Hindu pantheon are all manifestions of the one Supreme Being. Westerners often get it all mixed up.

      October 3, 2010 at 5:25 am |
  10. Rhonda

    Looking for the one true God without facing Him.....

    October 3, 2010 at 4:40 am |
  11. Northern

    Oh great !
    Just what the World DOES NOT need...
    Another stupid worthless pathetic Religion to argue over.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:33 am |
  12. Shaman

    To all the Christians who think they're holier than everybody else – Jesus was NOT a Christian! You don't even know your own religion.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:29 am |
    • Frank

      Shaman, you just said that Jews don't believe that Satan exists and that Satan isn't mentioned in the OT. Please hush and do some studying.

      October 3, 2010 at 4:31 am |
  13. littledebbieoatmealcookie

    the power of Druidry was expressed many years ago in this depiction: http://littledebbieoatmealcookie.wordpress.com/explosion/

    October 3, 2010 at 4:27 am |
  14. Shaman

    Muneef – this article is about the Druids. Please stop preaching Islam.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:23 am |
  15. ShamanNora

    Muneef – isn't this page about the Druids? Stop preaching Islam!

    October 3, 2010 at 4:21 am |
  16. FarFromYou

    hhhhhhhh....another joke about Nature and the bullsheet of believing in such creatures(Nature)....
    I think they need more reading but they must turn they heads on because they were TRUNED OFF for along time

    October 3, 2010 at 4:20 am |
  17. ShamanNora

    Finally! It's been so long overdue. The article makes one error – Judaism does not believe in Satan. There is no Satan in the Old Testament, either.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:19 am |
    • Frank

      What are you on about? Jews do believe in Satan. But they view him as an accusing Angel of God. No Satan in the Old Testament? Ever heard of the Book of Job?
      Where do you think we get the word 'satan'? It's a Hebrew term meaning 'accuser' or 'adversary'.

      October 3, 2010 at 4:26 am |
  18. FarFromYou

    hhhhhhhh....another joke about Nature and the bullsheet of believing in such creatures(Nature)....
    I think they need more reading but they must turn they heads on because they were TRUNED OFF for along time πŸ™‚

    October 3, 2010 at 4:16 am |
  19. True Christian

    The Holy Bible is quite clear that the punishment for worshipping other false gods is death. God said it, I believe it.

    Deuteronomy 17:2-5
    Suppose a man or woman among you, in one of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, has done evil in the sight of the LORD your God and has violated the covenant by serving other gods or by worshiping the sun, the moon, or any of the forces of heaven, which I have strictly forbidden. When you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly. If it is true that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then that man or woman must be taken to the gates of the town and stoned to death.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:13 am |
    • Frank

      Are you an Ultra-Orthodox Jew, retarded or just trolling? "Let he who hath no sin cast the first stone."

      October 3, 2010 at 4:23 am |
    • OhMy

      This is the same book that tells you it's ok to have slaves, that it's ok to sell your daughters, ok to pillage and plunder and murder enemies. And you are enamored with it?

      Oh yeah, you also may not eat shrimp... or wear your cotton blend fabrics, according to it.

      October 3, 2010 at 4:27 am |
    • True Christian

      No, I'm not Jewish. Are you one of those cherry picking Christians who pick and chose what parts of the Bible to believe in? We can't ignore the Old Testament. Most Christians have gotten soft with their faith. That's why the Muslims are taking over.

      October 3, 2010 at 4:35 am |
    • Frank

      You're either trolling or a Judaizing 'Christian'. You might as well just convert to Judaism and get it over with if you value the OT so. As a Christian, you are to believe that Christ is the fulfillment of the OT. We are not to live under the Law anymore, we are to live by Faith in Christ. Read Galatians chapter 3. St. Paul explains it. OT = the Promise of what is to come, Jesus = the Promise fulfilled.
      Muslims are not the enemy. Keep following the divide and conquer propaganda. You should be more concerned by the global capitalistic/Zionist/big business/fascist war machine that is threatening to engulf the world, enslave us all and destroy any connection to the Divine that we have left.

      October 3, 2010 at 4:51 am |
  20. Truth

    I could not have said it better than others who are using logic instead of their fear of inadequacy. It’s saddening that this many morons inhabit this planet. The day I believe in any god will be the day I believe in the tooth fairy. I lost my baby teeth a while ago. I group you retards ( yes I said retards bc I’m tired of pc talk) in with Michael Vick haters and morons who support sarah retard palin. That is all.

    October 3, 2010 at 4:12 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.