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. Darren

    Just what the world needs....more religion. I imagine they will be killing people in no time like muslims, christians, catholics, hindus, etc.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  2. BibleMan

    The First Commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me." Exodus 20:3

    October 3, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  3. Don

    Good for them. I'm sure all the whackadoos did everything they could to prevent it.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:26 am |
  4. bharatbasi

    druidism came out of hundu inflence and introduction of some aspcts hunduism in christianity(abrahic religion) by accepting many of the pre abrahamic religion, which was connected with hindu religion.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  5. MassiveMarbles

    ...just another reason to "like" a country that cares for what its citizens want!

    October 3, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  6. Robrob

    Similar to the Society for Creative Anachronism, some silly twits made up a religion they thought resembled the historic Druids (of which there is minimal record). Now it has caught on and people believe in it?

    October 3, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  7. Paul

    Romans 1:25 – 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:11 am |
  8. MuDdLe

    There is comical incongruity in the notion of Druids concerned for tax exempt status. It has all of the makings of a Python skit. (Druid priest steps into his accountant, Cleese's office....)

    October 3, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  9. max

    you guys working today? same headline for 6 hours

    October 3, 2010 at 7:50 am |
  10. xiaobao

    (A million brain-dead mouthbreathers argue over their imaginary friends)

    October 3, 2010 at 7:31 am |
    • Gumby

      Isn't it ridiculous? It is way past time humanity cast off this mind-numbing religious nonsense.

      October 3, 2010 at 7:45 am |
  11. Dystopiax

    1. Where did all THIS come from?
    2. What happens to us when we die?
    3. Based upon answers to those questions, what must we do?
    For me – this is a minimalist test of =religion=, that and being attacked by Barry Lynn for something trivial.

    October 3, 2010 at 7:27 am |
  12. Shaman

    Frank – I suggest YOU do the studying. I know what I'm saying.

    October 3, 2010 at 7:26 am |
  13. eric

    It doesn't sound any crazier than any of the already recognized religions. Especially that wacky Islam

    October 3, 2010 at 6:50 am |
  14. Yogart

    "Oh great that's all we need is a druish princess!"
    – Long live Mel Brooks.

    October 3, 2010 at 6:45 am |
  15. max

    didnt like the last one huh

    October 3, 2010 at 6:34 am |
  16. max

    same headline hour after hour after hour, you guys are gettin like fox

    October 3, 2010 at 6:33 am |
  17. getalife

    Druids? HAHAHAAA!
    What a bunch of idiots.

    October 3, 2010 at 6:26 am |
  18. Anthony

    I knew a story like this would bring out all the religious robots. God-based religion is for cowards. Period. At least the Druids are worshipping something real: nature. I can respect that. But I can't respect people who believe in fairy tales.

    October 3, 2010 at 6:24 am |
  19. Baruch

    That's all we need in this world, ANOTHER RELIGION!

    October 3, 2010 at 6:17 am |
  20. Peter Dybing

    Calling out the Name Callers

    This is for you who call others beliefs fairy tales, evil, rubbish, stupid, etc. The human condition leads us all to seek meaning in life, weather an individual finds that meaning in Wiccia, Christianity, Duridry, Science, Agnosticism or Islam we are all in this life together. Calling names and expressing a lack of tolerance for others beliefs only invalidates the points you are attempting to get across and further divides humanity. How about a little basic respect as an ingredient in this debate.

    October 3, 2010 at 5:52 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
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.