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. johnnyhouse

    Sounds good to me, every nut in the world should have a religion he can call his own.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  2. chicagogam

    so are there reverse procedures..for recognized religions to be seen as so profit motivated and political that they can lose their tax exempt status? 🙂

    October 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  3. Sarai

    YO! Let god sort it out. When we die we will see who is right. Till then hold your beliefs dear –

    October 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  4. Minister in Alabama

    God Bless them! There needed be any fear of pagan or neo-pagan religions by Christians. We need to hear other voices out there too. The road to God is paved in many beliefs and practices and Druidism will be another lovely flower on the path. I wish them the best of luck in the future.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • Anonymous

      You seem cool.

      October 3, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  5. stu

    doesn't seem any sillier than the rest of the religions out there... except Scientology, that one's REALLY silly.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  6. roughrider12

    Why are atheists just D-BAGS?

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

      Because christians are too. Atheists need to be D-bags to defend themselves from the likes of you.

      October 4, 2010 at 3:42 am |
  7. Platinum

    Who says believing makes it true? I could believe it rains in color, doesn't change the fact that water is clear. Many people believe their own religion is true, however, the act of believing doesn't cause universal truths to change.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  8. GrimShaw

    Really?? This religion is known for its sacrificial nature. Anyway, whatever as long as they aren't hurting no one I guess. Freaks.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • Anon.

      I do believe there are passages in the bible involving animal sacrifice. Correct me if I'm wrong, though I've been told numerous times by many people who've been going to bible study pretty much since they could read.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
    • Frank

      There are. Animal sacrifice is a part of ancient Jewish religion. The Orthodox plan to restart it if they ever get another temple. Muslims also perform animal sacrifices.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  9. BigFrank

    I mourn the loss of Britain but, its true, they are lost to western civilization. All you Brits who still have your wits about you should come to the U.S. The battle here is going badly and we can use the help; there is little time left.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • Gom Jabbar

      Oh, I beg to differ. The battle here, despite occasional setbacks, is going rather well. We'll have driven you anti-intellectual, bigoted, ignorant fundamentalists extinct within another generation or two. With the death of your medieval outlook, perhaps the human race will be able to make some real advances and work on cleaning up the mess you idiots have left us with . . .

      October 2, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • Frank

      Eugenics, transhumanism and human-machine singularities ahoy? "The future is so bright I have to wear sunglasses". (By the way, nuclear bursts are known to correct bad vision. Have fun with that.)

      October 2, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
    • Miz v

      Oh great... Big frank and frank. Maybe i can be lil frank!

      October 3, 2010 at 9:25 am |
    • Frank

      You can be Red Hot Frank or Dirty Frank (both sausage companies). 😉

      October 4, 2010 at 6:06 am |
  10. Tina

    Wow. Why don't some of you ignorant folks go do some real research before you make yourselves look incredibly stupid on the Internet.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • spiritual seeker

      then no one would be left on the internet and google would go bankrupt...

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

      Lol. Very true, spiritual seeker!

      October 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  11. JVIPER88


    October 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • Daemonaquila

      Ok. No tax breaks for any church. Ever.

      October 3, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  12. ShotgunBob

    Funny... she doesn't look druish.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  13. Brett Favre's fan (a.k.a. ybs)

    "All" religions are one big pile of dung surrounded by sheep that pontificate about its virtue or lack thereof! Most are still trying to justify having eaten it!


    October 2, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  14. TheRadicalLiberal

    All religions are a lot of hooey but I like the pagan ones a lot more than the big Abrahamic ones as they see the "sacred" in all things living and dead. A pagan is more likely to live in harmony and respect with nature where the Abrahamic religions teach us that we humans are all that matter and nature is for us to despoil and use as we see fit for our benefit.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  15. John

    Being kind and having merit is all about seeking truth and avoiding escapism whenever possible. This is my message. I expect to be tax exempt next year for my contribution to the knowledge base of mankind.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  16. James Quinn

    I wear a Thor pendant around my next. A pagan god of the forest on a ring and a Celtic Knot as an earring. What little I actually know of the pagan faiths I tend to enjoy very imaginative stories. As I think of their pathos one central all powerful God like Odin or Zeus and many lesser powered gods. Zeus and Odin having sons and there is always an Evil god thrown in the mix these legends sound strangely like Christian beliefs like the lesser gods being very much like angels. And every god has a boy:P I figure it makes as much sense and Christianity and since the Pagans came first I'm going with them.

    Pagan jim

    October 2, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  17. roughrider12

    Where is Al Gore?

    October 2, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  18. John

    You don't need religion to be generous and kind to others! Don't allow the priest dressed in civilian clothing to fool you. He's a human, and comes with all their faults and benefits. People walk this earth in all different ways, but religion does NOT own kindness and merit! There's a long list of organizations and people that need to be tax exempt. Lets get busy and tax exempt them.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Okay, give tax exemptions to those organizations and then tax the churches. Works for me. We could call it a "fantasy tax". LOL! LOL 'till my sides ache.

      October 2, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  19. RB

    Maybe a little offtopic, but if the druids spend 15 minute or less, they could save on car insurance with Geico (their lizard is a small God in his own right)

    October 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  20. Reality

    Wicca and Paganism to include Druids?


    Mocking spells, curses, covens, black magic, witches, voodooing dolls, hoodooing the results, shadow books, maypoles, horned god(s) and triple goddess(es), mistletoe, stonehedging and Gerald Gardiner- did we miss anything?

    October 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
    • Frank

      "Hoodooing the results". Lol.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
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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.