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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. 21k

    good news. here in the us, we need to force the government into granting such status for every religion that requests it. at some point it will hit people that "hey, they're making this #### up!", and they'll be able to wrest control of our government from the xtian leaders.

    October 3, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  2. newstalker

    Leave it to the Brits. They don't want to offend anyone. These are the same people who have turned prison toilets from facing east so as not to offend the Muslim prisoners.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  3. Ivan

    There's Only One God And Is Jesus... No More To Be Said. (these people must be on some weed)

    October 3, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • 21k

      we know for sure that to buy into the xtian faiths, one has to drink a lot of the wine, or the "blood", to stay faithful.

      October 3, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  4. PR

    Logic of an ignorant

    Einstein > relativity > (human missuse of knowledge: nuclear bomb) > Eisntein is bad

    Tree > source of many things > (human missuse of tree: fire to destroy, build crussifix, build clubs to hit people, hang people from tree) > Tree is bad

    October 3, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  5. JPo

    Old hippies finally get a religion. What a joke. Hey, play the system. Everyone else does. Apparently even in Britain.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  6. jimmy

    I think it's ridiculious that religion/churches get tax exempt status.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:47 am |
  7. Beeeeeeeeeeeee

    I hope you people start posting demotivation posters and cat pics soon.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  8. Reality

    Weird or what????

    The Great Beast

    Aleister Crowley (pronounced /ˈkroʊli/; 12 October 1875 – 1 December 1947), born Edward Alexander Crowley, and also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast, was an influential English occultist, mystic and ceremonial magician, responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema. Through this belief he came to see himself as the prophet who was entrusted with informing humanity that it was entering the new Aeon of Horus in 1904, a time when old ethical and religious systems would be replaced.

    The Satanic Bible and its Author

    Anton Szandor LaVey,[1] (April 11, 1930 – October 29, 1997) born Howard Stanton Levey, was the American founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan as well as a writer, occultist, and musician. He was the author of The Satanic Bible and the founder of LaVeyan Satanism, a synthesized system of his understanding of human nature and the insights of philosophers who advocated materialism and individualism, for which he claimed no supernatural, metaphysical, or theistic inspiration.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  9. Druid Doug

    I'd rather be a druid than a filthy muslim.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  10. SureWhyNot

    They seem peaceful enough. Not preaching at anyone or killing in the name of their God. So far so good.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  11. Gabe

    Boudicca would be proud.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  12. Nooka "John" Gilyard

    You Christians are amusing. Always, always judging others for their beliefs. Your God has done NOTHING for you, NEVER has and NEVER will. Your church systems are corrupt and preach more hatred than the very religions you claim to fight. So watch your tone with me.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  13. Joe

    Screw you Chist lovers pagan religions far outdate any of you.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  14. max

    move on already will ya

    October 3, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  15. michael

    It seems every bit as valid as christianity and islam.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  16. DaLe

    "Druids were members of the learned class among ancient Celts, acting as priests, judges and teachers."

    Sounds like druids were/are secret muslims. 🙂

    October 3, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  17. indiana5

    bbbb

    October 3, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  18. Linas

    20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
    21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
    22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
    23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  19. Jesus

    Mark: Why do you puny humans keep quoting this nonsense?

    October 3, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  20. billshut

    Just a bit behind the times. The US military was allowing service members to put DRUID on their dog tags, as their religious preference, at least 30 years ago (possibly more).

    October 3, 2010 at 9:57 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.