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. ficheye

    This blog is not working properly. The replies and regular posts are all mixed up. Nice.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • Dancing With Trolls

      You have it backwards.... CNN considers this a success.

      October 2, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  2. Cassarit

    The English are becoming unhenged!

    October 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  3. RB

    Maybe a little off topic ...but if the druids spend 15 mins or less, they could save on car insurance with Geico (their lizard is also another small God)

    October 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  4. Aristocrat1

    What CRAP. Druidry is BS, plain and simple.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
    • spiritual seeker

      says the aristocrat from on high. please oh chosen one, what the truth? I am sure your bloodline has answers mine doesnt...

      October 2, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
    • Gumby

      All religions are crap, end of story.

      October 3, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  5. bumble

    That is awesome. Now, what about Odinism and other pagan religions?

    October 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
    • David Johnson

      I use to love to read that Marvel comic book when I was like 12. I don't know if it is published. There was Odin and Thor and Loki.

      This fiction was actually what got me started on the path to being a Freethinker.

      October 2, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Odinism is a subset of the Asatru. While all Odinists are Asatru, not all Asatruar are Odinists.

      October 3, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  6. Mike

    @ Christian extremists. Something that one might want to consider is that while you can call anyone anything you might want to, in the hopes to get others to rally around your cause (calling others satanists)... do you suppose that you are showing others the strength of your religious beliefs or the weaknesses that surround them. Faith is something that is supposed to move mountains but attacking another persons faith simply shows an acceptance to violence and hatred toward your fellow man. Posting ridiculous statements that are hateful towards other religions only exposes your own disgusting nature and therefore exposes yourself to the world as the true threat. We live in a world of many belief's, social structures and natures between men. Not everyone you will meet is good, honest and loving... no matter WHAT you believe in!

    October 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • CatholicAvenger

      Those aren't real Christians, Mike. Just a bunch of fanatics pretending to be such. Don't believe other christians have that state of mind

      October 2, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  7. G

    Sure this sounds good now, but wait until Druid extremists start to wage war on non believers.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  8. John

    So if religion is so great and humble and contributing why did a very religious man the other day tell me that science is arrogant and unreasonable and even disgusting. That's a great way to encourage students to pursue science isn't it? That kind of man is more likely to encourage his kids to become a priest. I respect religious people. I respect their humility. I respect their kind nature. They even preform charity (ofcourse, charity is a method they use to spread their religion so it's NOT freely given! for example, most shelters virtually REQUIRE the homeless to attend the church service before being allowed to stay the night.... that is not free! there're charities that're not priests dressed in civilian clothing though.). Religion is like a man who offers you a place to stay for the night but while you're sleeping he goes through your belongings. Fact is, most fields of work and endeavour can be beneficial in some way, just like religion. Singling out religion and tax exempting it shows incomprehensible ignorance and prejudice. It's like climbing the mountain, reaching what you think is the summit, and finding that the mountain goes on and on from there. Religion is not the end or the beginning of humility and goodness. You don't have to be religious to be a good person or to be a contributing member of society. It's prejudice to believe otherwise.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  9. john316

    Well....it's as much a religion as the other large organized religions....which are just Cults .... with x number of members like Christianity with their "splinter" factions like the Mormons, Scientologists, etc.....

    October 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • Rick

      If you believe Scientology has anything to do with Christianity, you are sadly mistaken. They may use a cross, but it doesn't mean what you think it does.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
    • Jonny

      I think he means simply faiths with smaller followings (including religions that have splintered off more well established ones).

      October 3, 2010 at 3:25 am |
  10. captain dangerous

    i heard paganism spelled backwords spells demonic

    October 2, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • Gumby

      I hear Christianity spelled backward is "moronic".

      October 3, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  11. ficheye

    I'm going to support the druids. It's very close to the spirituality that I've always practiced. I don't think Eddie Long is a druid and that's OK by me.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  12. pope

    Just as much a serious religion as the rest in my opinion. The guy in the robe holding the staff looks like he could be Pope.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  13. Mahesh

    Great news! Nature is the only power, where we are sure, created us. Science fully supports that view. Rest live in make believe world about god, hell and heaven. As long as they be happy and does not make others feel miserable, I say , more power to them.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  14. spiritual seeker

    You all act like they gather together around a device used to torture and execute people, pretend to eat human flesh and drink human blood each week on the day named in honor of the sun.

    Oh wait that is Christianity, what was I thinking...

    October 2, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  15. WOW

    ....can you blame the Muslims and other religions for their dislike of Christian values? Christianty is the greatest war machine since the dawn of man.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  16. Big Joe

    Certainly good news for indigenous religions. Other pre-christian faiths have been recently officially recognized in other countries....asatru/heathenry is now recognized in many parts of Scandinavia. As communities begin to understand what was once common spiritual/religious practices they may adopt....it is like coming home. It will be liberating to be gone with the yoke of the "Good Book" and stifling illogical monotheism.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  17. WOW

    can you blame the Muslims and other religions for their dislike of Christian values? Christianty is the greatest war machine since the dawn of man.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
    • Xugos

      What the hell are you smoking? I'm a muslim, and many of our values are synonymous with Christians.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  18. thewrongway

    Catie, please do not try to play off your religion as being peaceful. Few are. On the other hand, I have yet to hear of a war being started by Druids. Islam hates westerners. Christians say they love everyone then threaten to burn someones holy book. To be perfectly honest, there probably would be no wars if there was no religion. Case in point, refer to post by "Carol." "I dont know a damn thing about someone elses religion so it is obviously 'the devil'!"

    October 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
    • Frank

      You think the ancient Celts were a peaceful people? Lol!

      October 2, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • Xugos

      "The West" did not exist during the dawn of Islam. Islam does not hate the West, GET A GRIP.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  19. jo an

    Can't be bad to pay attention to nature....sure better than Eddie Long's circus in Atlanta.

    October 2, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  20. capnmike

    One more idiotic religion added to the already burgeoning pile of lies and lunacy and fairytales that humans believe...PATHETIC!. Wake up! There isn't any "god"...nor are there "souls", "spirits". devils, heavens, hells and all the rest of that codswallop...it's all lies invented by humans to explain things they are afraid of. .

    October 2, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
    • Intellectual


      October 2, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • Frank

      So you think.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • dresta

      Hey! Nobody says coswallop anymore! Archaic term! Lol

      October 2, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • David Johnson

      You are so right my friend. Cheers!

      October 2, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
    • dude

      Wats your problem? why do u hate? Jus love and let be its too bad u spent your life trying to prove religion wrong. in the words of my friend 'you dumb jewbag'

      October 3, 2010 at 12:03 am |
    • Jonny

      capnmike ain't a hater – he just uses colorful words. like Groundskeeper Willie.

      October 3, 2010 at 3:19 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.