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. rr

    I like cheese

    October 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  2. Knight who says "Ni"

    you must bring us...a SHRUBBERY...a TAX FREE shrubbery!

    October 2, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • Kolfang

      A California medicinal shrubbery.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
    • Knight who says 420

      whooo yeah. religion never felt so good...

      October 2, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  3. Jeff

    "What can be asserted without evidence (religions), can be dismissed without evidence.. "

    October 2, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • jefffbo

      That was pretty heavy man !

      October 2, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  4. tafugate

    it is perfectly ok to make fun of christians, they bring it on themselves. but if you make fun of a druid, they will eat you.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
  5. Meh

    I believe in Zeus the almighty God of Gods.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    • Thor.

      Clearly it is Thor.

      October 3, 2010 at 7:07 am |
  6. Beasterdamas

    That's really beautiful another Religion has sprung forth in the midst of more twisted beliefs than can be accounted for...

    October 2, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  7. AwesomeBob

    I have a lvl 34 druid, do I get a tax break?

    October 2, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  8. automagic

    It's dangerous ground when the government gets to decide whether your religion is real or not.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
    • Kolfang

      The govt doesn't. It just deems which religion and cults get tax exempt status, like Scientology.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  9. Gok

    Does my D&D 32 level warrior druid gain any special powers at this new sanctioning of my religion?

    October 2, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
    • hobbit

      Unless he took a vow of poverty, no.

      October 4, 2010 at 3:50 am |
  10. Gok

    Isnt this blaspemy to the christians in Britain? Guess it doesnt matter since most Christians are hedons anyway.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
    • Frank

      What Christians in Britain? There hardly are any.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • Gok

      Whos fault is that? All them muslims didnt swim the english channel you know, someone let them in.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
    • Frank

      I don't blame the Muslims. They're not the ones at fault. It's kinda funny that the least religious nations in Europe are the Protestant ones. The Catholic and Orthodox ones aren't doing as bad. Lol.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  11. Allen Hill

    The Bible says "The thought of foolishness is a sin." These people have been decieved by the evil one.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm |


    October 2, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  13. PARROT


    October 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  14. Richie P

    So in Britain an organization can't be charitable unless they are religious?

    October 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  15. AK-47

    This nonsense reminds me of Avatar. hahaha!!! Ridiculous.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  16. Barf

    "Funny...she don't look Druish??"

    October 2, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  17. banana

    religion is just a crutch for simple minded people..at some point in our history we will have to come together as a whole unit to protect ourselves from other planets seeking food (us)

    October 2, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
    • Frank

      The Annunaki? Enlil, Enki and the rest of the gang? Reptilians? If you're talking about them, than they're already here, if you follow that line of thought. They've been here for thousands and thousands of years. There is no 'invasion'.

      October 2, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  18. carl

    I think you may be referring to the Pew poll on religion, which was a scientific survey of the knowledge of various groups of faith people on the topic of religion. Which had nothing to do with this story.

    October 2, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  19. banana

    Aliens planted us here as an experiment 1 million years ago.....do you people know nothing

    October 2, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  20. edmundburkeson

    Does this mean that secularism should also be declared a religion? Nature is regarded as supreme by them as well. Nature our creator, our source of understanding, our justification for excluded theists from public discourse?

    October 2, 2010 at 5:27 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.