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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. Johan de Haan

    Well, well, what matters it.

    Believe that too.

    October 4, 2010 at 7:12 am |
  2. Luna

    Long live nature-oriented religions! They have a positive impact in our society by living in harmony with Nature, the Earth, our environment while promoting tolerance for everyone and respect to every living being. Shamanism, druidism, neo-paganism, and other alternative New Age beliefs bring a new era of enlightenment to humanity, contrary to the fanaticism and lack of tolerance that prevails in monotheistic and "holy" mainstream religions. This is some refreshing news! Perhaps the world is heading into a new era where we'll discover that going back to the origins of being in harmony with our surroundings is much better than following ridiculous rules and norms as set by society and its divisive monotheistic and fanatical movements.
    Down with monotheism and extremism, let us all find the beauty of our dear Mother Earth, the Goddess, the feminine side of divinity, let's embrace pantheism and animism in all its forms and recognize that everything that surrounds us is sacred. Let's take care of our very own sanctuary, this planet we live on.

    October 4, 2010 at 6:53 am |
    • Muneef

      @Luna. So nice your name is being some thing to do with the moon! Suggest you worship the moon better for you than mother earth? Any way mother earth is not independent and has to depend so much on God the One and Only to support it with life since life is a drop of rain from heavens which mother earth cannot live or give life with out it. So if God does not allow rain to fall there would be no trees,nature,animals for your people to worship rather than God??
      Oh my God we leave out worshiping the Creator to become worshiping his creations?? Does it look right this way to you?

      October 4, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • Frank

      Luna, nature is lovely and everything, but if you think that the Pagans were more peaceful than the monotheists you despise so much, you would be mistaken. Human beings all have the same broken sinful nature. It doesn't matter if they worship a transcendent deity, a tree, themselves or nothing at all.
      The 'New Age' is chock full of crazies and 'extremists' just like any other group. In fact, they probably have more than their fair of destructive brainwashing cults.
      God has no gender. The Infinite One is beyond such restraints. Feel free to imagine Him or Her in any gender you wish, though. But just keep that in mind.

      October 4, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
    • Muneef

      @Frank. Yes you are so right and I wish I could express my thoughts in words like you do. Masha Allah.
      You know I think you are right about God Allah who has always refered to him self as We and never used I for a male or a female..but in certain verses he addresses him self as a Male in verses as in sura 112:1 to 4 and in all his verses in the Quran refered him self as " Hoo " Allah La-Elah AlaHo AlHai AlQayom..As in Arabic we use the word Hoo for Male and Hee
      for female Bases that we assume that God Allah is refered to as a male..

      October 4, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
    • The Horned One

      @ Muneef: It seems you do not understand the essence of neopagan beliefs, please read or inform yourself more before making any undiscerning comment.

      @ Frank: We're discussing NEOpaganism, which is peaceful. Even if the ancient pagans were not always peaceful, they were not responsible for half the misery monotheistic religions have caused and are still causing. When was the last time you heard of (neo)Druids waging war against another religion or converting other people by force? How about criticising the crimes and injustices that are still being committed in the name of a monotheistic God/religion/cult nowadays?

      October 5, 2010 at 6:38 am |
    • Frank

      "We're discussing NEOpaganism, which is peaceful. Even if the ancient pagans were not always peaceful, they were not responsible for half the misery monotheistic religions have caused and are still causing."

      Oh, please. They were just as violent and warmongering as anyone else was. Plus, they had the added bonus of human sacrifice. Oh, what fun.

      "When was the last time you heard of (neo)Druids waging war against another religion or converting other people by force? How about criticising the crimes and injustices that are still being committed in the name of a monotheistic God/religion/cult nowadays?"

      There have been crimes against other faiths committed by neo-Pagans. Ever heard of the Norwegian Black Metal scene? Lets not pretend that it's all lovely dovey stuff. They're just not as organized and don't have as many numbers.

      People of all faiths have it in them to be monsters. Being a monotheist doesn't make it more likely.

      October 5, 2010 at 6:57 am |
    • The Horned One

      "An it harm none, do what thou wilt"and the Threefold Law lie at the essence of Neopaganism.
      Therefore whoever commits crimes and harms others including themselves claiming to be a Neopagan is far from the essence of its core beliefs. Stop confusing anti-Christian Black metal Norwegian bands and their acts with what Neopagans generally believe in and do. These bands usually lean more towards Satanism anyway, which is far more selfish in its ideology when you compare it to the essence of Wicca or Druidism for example. Neopagans are not generally pro-monotheism and will express their dislike of organized religion but will not go as far as burning Churches or murdering innocent people.

      October 5, 2010 at 10:33 am |
    • The Horned One

      Speaking of human sacrifice, you mean when predominantly monotheistic countries send their children to senseless wars ? Or when poorer countries are exploited by these same nations ?

      October 5, 2010 at 10:42 am |
    • Frank

      ""An it harm none, do what thou wilt"and the Threefold Law lie at the essence of Neopaganism."

      I am well aware of that modification of what Crowley said. That is a belief in Wicca as they are a syntheisis of 19th century-early 20th century European pagan occultism and Eastern belief. It does apply to the whole of the neo-Pagan movement.

      "Therefore whoever commits crimes and harms others including themselves claiming to be a Neopagan is far from the essence of its core beliefs. "

      Again: the Wiccan Rede is a part of WICCA, not necessarily a part of all of neo-Pagan beliefs. Wicca is a seperate religion that falls under the neo-Pagan umbrella. They do not all subcribe to that.

      "Stop confusing anti-Christian Black metal Norwegian bands and their acts with what Neopagans generally believe in and do."

      Did I say that that's what neo-Pagans generally believe? I am just saying that the picture of neo-Paganism being completely peaceful and tolerant is NOT the complete picture. Just as you can't say that monotheism is generally intolerant and violent.

      But you cannot deny that the violent actions carried out by self-proclaimed Pagans in Scandinavia and elsewhere did not stem from their religious beliefs, at least in part.

      "These bands usually lean more towards Satanism anyway, which is far more selfish in its ideology when you compare it to the essence of Wicca or Druidism for example."

      Some were Satanic and some were not, some were Odinist and some were a mixture of the two.

      Whether Satanism is a form of Paganism is a point of debate. There is such a thing as Darkside Paganism, you know. There are plenty of neo-Nazis who are Pagans, as well. They are quite dangerous.

      "Neopagans are not generally pro-monotheism and will express their dislike of organized religion but will not go as far as burning Churches or murdering innocent people."

      The evidence obviously suggests otherwise. Being a Pagan does not automatically mean you are a peaceful person.

      October 6, 2010 at 6:48 am |
    • Frank

      "Speaking of human sacrifice, you mean when predominantly monotheistic countries send their children to senseless wars ? Or when poorer countries are exploited by these same nations ?"

      That is not of God and any leader who sends his people to war (especially in today's world) creates a blight on God's creation. God does not demand human sacrifice. Our so-called leaders are not truly followers of whatever faith they claim to follow, anyway. Their only god is money and power.

      October 6, 2010 at 6:52 am |
    • Frank

      " It does apply to the whole of the neo-Pagan movement. "

      *NOT

      October 6, 2010 at 6:54 am |
  3. Doris

    Well, I suppose if the loonies at Scientology can call themselves a religion anyone can...

    October 4, 2010 at 4:31 am |
  4. davids

    it really great to recognize that not only Africa are still holding to thier pagaan rites but there is a revival (in public) in britian aka europe of paganism. and sooner human and animal sacrifice will start again.
    hence the only difference between the races is just skin but all IN man is same controlled by principalities and powers
    Sons of God arise to His righteousness and you will not sin and let your light shine

    October 4, 2010 at 3:20 am |
    • Muneef

      @davidson.
      Africa had no prophets of God sent to them and that's why they are still believing in witchcraft and worshiping of unknown creations of God or worshiping the devil , God knows what.. My surprise that although God had sent us the Sons of Abraham all the prophets of God to warn us not to descend back to lower grade than we are in religion?

      October 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
    • Frank

      Well, there have been a number of occult murders related to Satanism and other things like that and apparently human sacrifices to the goddess Kali never stopped in some areas of India.
      None of these things ever went away. Hell, war is just one gigantic human sacrifice.

      October 4, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
    • Muneef

      @Frank.
      God has One religion but humans have many religions to God? God's One religion was sent to us by many messengers through out life but since God's wisdom was not to give us intensive course and other times is because those who messengers were sent to either deported them or killed them and that's why was not complete and had to be taken as levels to bring them from what they were then until last prophet looked as Elementary,Preparatory,Secondary and University.
      We had four Holy Books first was the Jewish: Torah to Moses , Alzaboor to David, Alangeel to Jesus , Quran to Muhammed saw. So you see for some they never want to graduate in their studies...

      October 4, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
    • Muneef

      @dividson.
      Withdraw my comment as God told us that there were prophets not told of in holy books which means that there was a possibility that Africa had prophets of God sent to them...Quran Sura 04:164
      Sura 40:78. Sorry for my jumping in to conclusions before research. Regards.

      October 7, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  5. Huh

    ok..show of hands..who's had The Holy Spirit work through them before they even knew what He was or was going on. I have. I'm gonna go ahead and say thats enough proof for me. Good luck with your revival Malcolm Mcdowell.

    October 4, 2010 at 1:50 am |
  6. Brian

    What about imagination? You can't prove it exists "logically"..and yet society "believes" in it. Just a question.

    October 4, 2010 at 1:47 am |
  7. rakka

    Well, at least this is some sort of believable religion, especially when compared to others like Christianity etc.
    Good on the druids. Next we will allow some other forms of Dungeon and Dragons type religions.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
  8. Theresa

    Why are people arguing here...if you are allowed to legally declare the body of blood of your god, virgin birth, or whatever...why can't they have legal statis too? And sometimes they do things pubicly to show what they are about because it is a mystery to many still. They have nothing to hide, is all. We could use more earth loving people like them when it comes right down to it.

    October 3, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  9. Theresa

    Wonderful news!! About time!!

    October 3, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  10. mike

    freaks

    October 3, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
  11. Anders

    It is 2010, education is widespread, and yet, many people in highly developed seriously believe in gods (ususally just one, "God"). The world will never attain human understanding, peace and justice as long as this is the case. Religion make good people bad. Religion causes people to throw away their IQs and reasoning skills to dogmas. Religion is an important reason for virtually every armed conflict on the planet. Well, except MY religion of course. 🙂 http://www.venganza.org/

    October 3, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  12. Byrd

    OK, Reality, you have hit the nail exactly on the head with your discussion of the fallacy of the Exodus story. Genesis has the same problems multiplied to infinity. The bible is completely useless as a timeline. It's a complete jumble. The only real question is whether or not that jumbling was intentional. And,of course, who did the jumbling in the first place and why. Any guesses?

    October 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  13. Dave

    In ancient times...
    Hundreds of years before the dawn of history
    Lived a strange race of people... the Druids
    No one knows who they were or what they were doing
    But their legacy remains
    Hewn into the living rock... Of Stonehenge

    October 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  14. Byrd

    Cool. We're really going to need the Earth's help in eliminating some of these problems. Time to restore the real missing link.

    Clay of the Earth

    October 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  15. SHAIARRA

    vadbadbadbad

    October 3, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  16. SHAIARRA

    test

    October 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  17. jo an

    The Druids may unite us...especially if they lead us to respect and honor our mother..NATURE.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  18. Thorrsman

    It would be nice if CNN would fix this so that the posts came in proper order by time and the replies stayed with the comments they were addressed to.

    October 3, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  19. steven harnack

    Don't give Wall St. any ideas! Soon they will admit that they worship Mamon and claim tax exempt status for all of the billions that they amass in His name!

    October 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
    • Frank

      Lol. Salient point.

      October 4, 2010 at 6:15 am |
  20. omar

    i worship lady gaga

    October 3, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Frank

      Lady Gaga and I are both Catholic and I need to see her in my rectory right now.

      October 4, 2010 at 6:14 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.