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. Joe

    Human and animal sacrifice took part in many religions.... including the most important ancient human sacrifice: Jesus Christ

    October 3, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  2. SFA51

    Most people who criticise Christianity have no knowledge of the Old Testament and the prophises that came to pass once Christ came to earth. If all you know is that Christians worship some guy who supposedly died on a cross and came back from death, then you're woefully lacking in Christian doctrine, and disbelieve (or doubt) because you won't (or can't) take the time to find out what it's all about. On the surface it sounds way too simple, but if you invest the time to read, listen and L-E-A-R-N, you'll become a believer...

    October 3, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  3. Wilb Porter

    Well, that's just what we need, another religion. More myths for fools!

    October 3, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  4. chris

    a witch burn the witch! she turned me into a newt....but i got better

    October 3, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  5. Stephen


    October 3, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  6. 9876543219

    Fat chance of the druids recognizing the British government ... The druids haven't changed so if the British government recognizes them now they were wrong before and should pay reparations..

    October 3, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  7. AntiWar

    R u kidding OR WHAT ???
    Nature is already recognized as a part of living system in every religion. There is no need to manuffacture new group for this purpose. Environemtal protection is Government business.
    It definitely doesn't fit as religion. IT'S TAX LOOPHOLE.

    October 3, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  8. Sharon

    I need to say that while I will defend your right to practice whatever religion (or not to practice) that you want. I need to point out that for those of you who believe that the God of the Bible does not discrimate you are wrong, by Jesus' own words. Not mine or any Christian leaders. Jesus tells his followers that "No one will come to the Father except those who believe in me" (Jesus). At the same time God (of the Bible) will not force anyone to believe in Him. He loves everyone but has set forth requirements that must be met if you want to live with Him for eternity if you don't you will spend eternity seperated and in torment. Read the Bible, especially the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) to see what Jesus said, then The Acts of the Apostles to see how the people who knew Jesus applied what He had taught them. Therest of the New Testament are letters to dfferent churches addressing problems in that church. I think you will find it is different than what most people think about Christianity.

    For those of you who think that Christianity has done more harm than good do you know that Rome, Greece and other European/ Middl Eastern countries of Jesus day threw newborns on the trash heap and let them die, Christians who were in the minority rescued them and began the first orphanages and hospitals, Christians have discovered and created all the moden conviences. Our system of laws is based on the law of Moses. I am not saying that horrible things have not been done in the name of Christianity, but bad thing have been done by people of all faiths.

    FYI I was not raised in the Christian church, I became a born again Christian when I was 23.

    October 3, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  9. Chris

    Romans 1:25: They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

    October 3, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  10. The Patriot


    October 3, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  11. Bob Bichen

    So is this like Spaceballs? Do the girls get to be a "Druish Princess"?

    October 3, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  12. abel

    Look at this:
    "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."
    Perhaps a bit too optimistic; anyway you can only wish this applied to all religions – no dogmas.

    October 3, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  13. Down With Islam


    October 3, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  14. Bob

    You can be a Druid and a Christian at the same time.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  15. David

    What a shame that Britain from which the Pilgrims came from across the sea in order to bring the Light to America, should stoop and degrade themselves from a civilized faith in God the Creator and the gift of His Son to save believers...to a base pagan and God-hating religious culture.
    The Pilgrims were right...they fled the darkness. But Britain through the grace of God slowing became the haven of Truth and great men of God attracted God's blessings upon this great country.
    Now let's see what Britain turns into when God turns His back on her and gives Britain over to her immoral and pagan tendencies.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  16. bharatbasi

    druidism came out due to hindu influence in christianity. druidism borrowed many of preabrahamic religious history, which is also a part of old and new hindu religion.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  17. John

    All Your Works Are in VAIN... There is Only One Way.. and That is Through The King of kings... The Lord Jesus Christ!
    John 3:16 Druidism is souls driven MAD..By God!!!

    October 3, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  18. melindai

    have a question. Why is it that christians are getting on here saying that theirs is the only religion and the only real god when its a known fact that christianity is only a couple thousand years old. Paganism has been around for many thousands of years before that so if anything, we pagans should be the ones saying that our religion is the only true religion. But unlike you christians, we don't do that. Why? Because unlike you, our heads aren't stuck up our asses.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  19. Iggy Top

    All religion, mono and polytheistic, is bunk except where it keeps some moron or other from killing and cannibalizing his neighbors children, etc. So it can help keep the peace. For a while. Unfortunately, some religions occasionally celebrate the murder of, "non-believers". The path to hell is still paved with good intentions.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:39 am |
  20. John Que 3000

    Fort Hood allows, Wicca, rasta, stupid Allah, and jammin jesus, so now a druid altar is next. I'll put a Pagan and Druid against Allah any day.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:37 am |
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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.