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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. human

    What the heck......another relegion and with Only 350 members? have British authorities lost their mind?

    October 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • Daemonaquila

      Druidry is a large, worldwide religion. The "350 members" refers to one particular Druid group in England that fought for recognition for the whole religion. It's like one Baptist church with 350 members in the congregation suing the government over a tax issue that would affect all other Christian churches.

      October 3, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  2. Petunia

    Just what we need. Another religion. I'm going to start a religion about no religion. And first thing I'm going to do is write off my house because God knows there is no religion here.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  3. Sagebrush Shorty

    Of course this is the same country that says they have no crime, just anti-social behavior. Also the same country that has ruled that if any one has more than one wife for religious reasons, they can all collect welfare.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  4. JLB

    I know the majority of you will make some comment about my being a bigot or some other demeaning phrase but I'm going to say this anyway.

    I am a Christian who is struggling with my faith. I'm not going to pass judgement on the Druids because I'm not supposed to. I actually think it is fine. I know that I would rather believe that when I die I will be reunited with my loved ones who have passed on before me, than to believe that life just stops. In my life there have been things left undone that would never be done if life just ended. I cannot bring myself to believe that the afterlife isn't there. I have a mother to meet there and a whole family that I can't remember.

    Maybe organized religions have do have it wrong, or maybe they are right. No one really knows until we die what happens. I don't think I'm brainwashed or a bigot or any of the other names that were attributed to Monotheists, but they can hurt all the same. Hopefully everyone here finds peace in your own life and your own beliefs.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • shecky

      @JLB any struggle you have over your religion, well this is good, it could show a probability of an open-minded view.if your religion stifles your struggle to understand something, then i too would question it. wish you luck with your ordeal.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
    • JLB

      Thanks

      October 2, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
    • Frank

      JLB, God bless you. Just know that God is always there for you when you feel you are alone and no one is listening. He is there for you and He is listening. Things may not happen right away, but all things happen in His time. He knows when the time is right to make a change in someone's life. Just keep praying, doing your best in life and have faith.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  5. Jake

    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 2, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  6. k

    So, has anyone noticed that most of the world's problems, and all the arguments on this forum, started with religion? I'm no Atheist, but I truly shun the idea of a "God" being supreme over all. I respect religion as an idea, but not those who abuse it. I'm certainly not doomed to go to a "hell" in which I do not believe. I love the very idea of teaching my children about the relationship between them and the Earth on which they live. I am not involved in Druidry (little red squiggly line, is it even a word? Should it not be Druidism?), but it does make much more sense than the fairy tale of virgin birth, "holy" visions and angels, topped off by a "God" that you cannot see or touch. Nature is all around you. (Please, don't bring up the whole "God created this and that"; I'm way past that).

    October 2, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  7. Richard Sciarappa

    Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
    Romans 1:22-23

    October 2, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
    • Daemonaquila

      Yaaaaaaaawn... when will Christians realize they're as full of crap as they insist everyone else is?

      October 3, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • James Quinn

      Actually I think they and their images came first and Jesus is the new kind on the block. Just saying....

      October 3, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  8. Turcofinwe

    Every religion has done something good – however, more wars, deaths and torture have been done in the name of religion than any other reason or cause. While you may point out the good of a few Christians, you also have neglected to reflect upon the time Christians have destroyed unbelievers. No different than what the Romans did by feeding Christians to the Lions, I'm just saying, in the end, it's all a mixed bag.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  9. Cletus

    Better late than never

    October 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  10. jefffbo

    Maybe these people have it right, like leave the human go between out, and talk straight too god at a tree.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  11. Bill

    It's about time. If they can let Scientolgists prance around London like they own it then they can certainly allow Druids to worship around stonehenge.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  12. Li Tai Fang

    What about Church of the Spaghetti Monster?

    October 2, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  13. Lord Giggles

    Whats next? Belief in Elven Lore? lol

    October 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
    • James Quinn

      How is this any more or less silly than any other faith/belief?

      Pagan jim

      October 3, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  14. Brian

    Some of the most atrocious spelling and grammar I have seen in Internet posts. Doesn't do much for your credibility (you know who you are!), either!

    October 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  15. cassie

    An absoluntely "Devine" religion!

    October 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  16. Kolfang

    I GROK in fullness.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  17. FARAH

    Why does is it look like the Cult leader is about to sacrifice a human virgin on Mt St Helen in front of his satanic followers?

    October 2, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  18. Stans Friend

    Hey Guys, will you visit SaveStan.ORG a friend of mine with 4 young babies is fighting for his life.....Thanks

    October 2, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  19. Dan

    My left nut is a religion

    October 2, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  20. FARAH

    Why does it look like the Cult leader is about to sacrifice a human virgin on Mt St Helens in front of all the satanic worshippers??? Are they reenacting a scene from "Indiana Jones and the Temple of DOOM". Lord have mercy!

    October 2, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
    • Frank

      Lol!

      October 2, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
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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.