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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. anonymous

    Hellbound is what they are.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  2. Dani3l

    This is actually the first time Druidry has had any legal standing in Britain since it was suppressed by Rome after the conquest under Claudius in 43 CE. Naturally, modern Druidry does not have a direct tie to the ancient faith, many practices of which were and remained carefully guarded secrets. But revivalist Druidry has a long cultural history in Britain, and it is nice to see an article on Belief Blog about something non-Abrahamic, non-Hindu and non-Buddhist. Religious belief is far more broad a fiend than the "Big Five" world religions.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • Dani3l

      Was that a freudian slip in my last line? I meant "more broad a FIELD" of course.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  3. E....Long

    Im about to get kicked out of my "mega church" could use some new followers so I can lead them to my zipper

    October 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  4. jason

    Why not? Britian recognizes other pagan organizations like the catholic church as a religion.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  5. carl

    These people have a right to their religion the same as anyone. And they clearly are not doing anyone or anything harm. They may believe whatever they want to believe. Judging them on the basis of 'it sounds wacky' is just ridiculous.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  6. johnnyhouse

    What we should be hearing in the news is the same coverage for the White House chief of staff that Sarah Palin got when she quit her job as governor. Wonder if this will be a consideration with the voters in the Chicago elections for mayor or will it be downplayed by the Liberal media?

    October 2, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  7. BraveSaintStuart

    All we need is a Druish princess...

    October 2, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  8. Kermit Roosevelt

    Has Christine O'Donnell dabbled in this?

    October 2, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  9. On Taxes...

    Christian churches have tax-exempt status... Does this mean Christians don't have to pay taxes? No. It means the church doesn't pay taxes on funds it raises. It's the same for every recognized religion.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  10. Up Yours

    Ahhhhh, how does something not Christian always end up causing a discussion about them? Guess what? It's not about you, it's never about you, go find a crucifix and shut up.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
    • Frank

      "go find a crucifix and shut up."

      Just not the one around my neck or on my wall, please.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • Really?

      @Up Yours – you could have said what you believe it is all really about – state your beliefs. Afterall, this is an open forum, is it not? Whether you believe in what anyone else has to say, at least have some form of conviction. Freedom of speach remember?

      @Frank – good! very good!

      October 2, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  11. johnnyhouse

    I wonder if there is soul out there knows why we are in these wars for the last 10 years and don' t say Bush.RELIGION.1400 years of trying to force their will on the world.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  12. FurryHamster

    It is amazing how some people cannot waste any occasion to take jabs at Christianity. Any religion is a matter of belief, and for someone (take Donna as an example) to assume that we are Christians (or Muslim, or Jews, or Hindu, or....) because we are told so is just plain stupid and ignorant. I am Christian because I choose to be; my friend is Hindu because she decided that what touched her soul; my other friend is a proud and devout Muslim. We are all intellectual and educated, but I guess we are wise enough to separate religion from materialistic issues, and I pity people who still cannot do so.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Really?

      @FurryHampster – you see – it takes respect to be able to get alone with others and that is what is severly lacking in many people. It has become you are wrong and I am right – and I am going to show you at any cost. Many people search for truth and in that search, they get confused or lost – disillusioned by the search itself. They begin to create their own truth which in reality is not truth at all. It is the same argument many use against those of us who are Christian because after all, there are those in Christianity who get disillusioned and tout they are the authority over Truth. Sadly, the church is failing at many of the things we are called to do. It is time for those who do believe to do something novel and actually read the entire book – don't just pound on it (no, I am not directing this at you). Follow His teachings – be a member of His church and not just belong to the religion man's church. There truly is a difference.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  13. Alba

    It has been proven by MANY archeologists and scientists that 2,010 years ago, a very powerful man named Jesus of Nazareth lived. It has been proven that this man was falsely accused and was crucified. It has been proven that He was real... That He was alive. And still is. Look around you. The beauty and the chaos... you would have to be very ignorant not to see.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • Rick

      Take the faded videotape copy of "The Search For Historic Jesus" out of your tape player and start reading some books. No scientists or archaeologists have ever proven Jesus' existence. He's given one brief mention by one Roman historian as a troublemaker in the province of Judea. Nothing else. He existed, but not as the Son of God.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
    • Grimjerk

      Can you quote your sources on this?
      I would be interested in seeing them as there has never been any empirical evidence that Jesus ever existed, there are no artifacts, writings or mentions of him during his believed time of existence, The only mentions of him come well after his supposed death and most of those are other names that many have taken to believe are misspellings of his name but may or may not actually be him... Again, no proof ... Even the encounter with Pilate has no evidence (that I am aware of) to back it up. I am actually very intersted in finding out if there has been any new discoveries on this.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  14. Lourdes

    "Druidry" headlines...just in time for halloween.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  15. Wakeup321

    You'd think you'd be a little concerned about those MUSLIMS trying to take over your country.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  16. Fuyuko

    All religions practiced sacrifice at one time or the other. I applaud the druids for addressing this, as this is one thing the celts did do, as did other religions, unfortunately.

    I have long thought it strange they insist on worshiping at stonehenge since it predates the druid era. But perhaps they simply feel a connection there.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  17. illuminati

    I think this is a very important and good step in to freedom of speech and religion, well done GB well done

    October 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  18. johnnyhouse

    I can hear it now Druid terrorist that do not go by the regular Druid rules. Millions have been killed through history and it is always blamed on the extremist part of the religion, the good part had nuuuuuuuthiiing to do with it.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  19. MichaelK

    Christ was cool. Christians, not so much.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  20. Lourdes

    they value "....ignorance". I guess that makes sense since they don't really want to know who God is.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:11 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.