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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. xiao lin

    Even though I'm a Christian, I think that if someone built a Stonehenge a few thousand years ago they at least deserve their own religion.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  2. shecky

    so far every religion i have encountered has certain observable 'traits' that are repeatable and provably have positive retroactions on humans. they each also include ignored negative retroactions. i chose to not subscribe to any written religion. i will remain satisfied with my own beliefs and know that no matter when the date of my death occurs, i will still be a functional portion of the system i originated in.i am not afraid of this fact.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  3. LouAz

    Why is this "news" in the "CNN Belief" section ? It has nothing to do with a mythical man like god in the sky ?

    October 2, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  4. OnanismO

    Excellent! We must continue to UNDO the damage done by the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, by recognizing religions that predated the Catholic domination of Europe. Take that, pope!

    October 2, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
  5. Paige Turner

    A nice alternative for the hate we call religion today. Imagine... everything has some sacredness to it. Hmmmmm.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  6. Thorrsman

    The Old Ways are returning. Long ago, before the Reformation, the Church uprooted the Holy Stones, cut down the Sacred Groves and burned the temples, in an effort to suppress the religions of Europe. The officials of the Church took a minor servant of their God mentioned in the original Jewish texts, the Tempter assigned to see if Adam and Eve would obey, and used him to create their great being of Evil, Satan, fashioning his likeness by using aspects of the Old Gods. Horns and hooves, and whatever else would serve their purpose. And those who still followed the Gods of their Ancestors were condemned for worshipping the Devil that the Church created. Yet all their efforts were for naught, for the Old Ways still survive and we see them returning again as those Old Gods show that they are not so old or so powerless as the Church has long preached.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
    • Frank

      Admittedly, Satan does not bear any resemblance to the horned gods of yore. The Bible describes Satan as a 'serpent', 'a dragon'. But of course, he has no form as he is not a material being.
      Of course, all those who do evil and oppress in the name of God will recieve what is coming to them. The ones who did that to the people of Europe and elsewhere have recieved their due, Pope and laymen alike. "The roads of Hell are paved with the skulls of Popes and Bishops", or something or other.

      October 2, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  7. Robert

    Here comes Druid Claus
    Here comes Druid Claus
    Right down Mistletoe Lane
    He's got a knife
    to snuff out the life
    of all unbelievers too.

    He'd rather dicker
    with a man called Wicker
    and he'll lead you to the flame
    Don't y'all fret
    cause your turn will come yet
    when he comes down Stonehenge Drive.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
    • Eddie

      Just remember, Christmas is only celebrated in December, because of the Druid celebration of the winter solstice.

      October 2, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  8. Tony Rigatoni

    A druid was a member of the priestly class in Gaul and possibly other parts of Celtic western Europe during the Iron Age. Following the invasion of Gaul by the Roman Empire, the druids were suppressed by the Roman government from the 1st century CE and disappeared from the written record by the 2nd century, although there may have been later survivals in the British Isles. Very little is currently known about the ancient druids as they left no written accounts about themselves, and other than a few descriptions left by Greek and Roman authors, and in stories created by later mediaeval Irish writers, the accuracy of all of which are disputed, we have no evidence about them.[1] While archaeological evidence has been uncovered pertaining to the religious practices of the Celtic people, "not one single artefact or image has been unearthed that can undoubtedly be connected with the ancient Druids."[2]

    BUT THEY WERE THERE BEFORE THE GUY THAT WOKE UP FROM THE DEAD AND FLOATED INTO OUTER SPACE.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  9. shecky

    placing a relevance value on belief (to me) is much more important than naming my belief and conforming it to other humans stated belief. my relevance value for belief is subject to change, through observation. in my case, any religion or establishment that is unwilling to change merely because an old book says not to, or a profit motive says not to, or the moon says so has roughly 0 relevance to me and means i can use to enhance my ability to live. i find that merely looking at things you can with a high degree of accuracy prove to be repeatable, show that in many ways, we are all connected, on many levels. knowing this, i chose not to kill other than to eat, knowingly lie, and many other things. it would only fool me. language is very semantic, definitions are not solid. religion and establishment thinking are not based on anything other than language, which is itself as suspect. being able to quantify something as objectively as possible and show it is repeatably so is of far more relevance to me than any belief i have that is not repeatably observable. IE: i know that the motive for profit creates unnecessary waste, and i reject it as a personal motive, seeing as unnecessary waste compounds my difficulties in trying to continue living. likewise, every religion i have yet to come in contact with, including druidics, imposes something on me that i cannot duplicate, and causes me to ignore relevant information. i believe and can reliably prove that i am a part of nature, so in that sense i resonate with druidics more than christians or muslims or what have you. however, i do not have any need to place relevance on the moon, as I am aware that it relates systematically with everything else i can reproduce. for me, druidics isnt 100% applicable so it too, is out. it is quite provable (and relevant) to know that constant change is the norm.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:08 pm |
  10. David Johnson

    Druidry is just as real as any of the other religions.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
  11. zoundz

    I'll respect anyone's beliefs, but no way am I getting into a giant wicker basket like Nicholas Cage on some remote island,
    after being told the view is nice from up there.

    October 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  12. matt

    Good stuff. If they can keep away from religious war, I see no harm.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
  13. Really

    Why are ANY of these mythologies getting special treatment by our government. They act as much like corporations as any actual one, including trying to influence the political process.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  14. k

    John

    @Intellectual, I guess you just have that name to make yourself look good? Since you really need to do some reading on what the catholic religion has done over the centuries i.e. Mother Theresa, St. Francis of Assisi and countless others who have died helping the poor and even defending your freedom. Allot of people today would not be around if not for religion. So go grab a book and start reading Intellectual.
    October 2, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |

    Um, Okay, and you need to remember that a lot of people would be around if not for religion. So grab a book and start reading, John. I suggest you start with the Inquisition and go right on up to the Holocaust, and then if you really need more you can read up on current events. This includes all the people who have been abused by members of clergy.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  15. Gary D.

    I married a Druish Princess.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
  16. Real_Deal

    Too dang cold! Find me some Polynesian palm tree god and I'll consider it 🙂

    October 2, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
  17. Janie

    I wonder how many of the people who have responded to this event actually have personally followed their own spiritual path and how many speak what they speak because they have been told it is what is "right".
    Do not just remember "some" of the bible for if you follow one verse you should follow it all.

    Matthew Chapter 7 verse 22 and 23 – Many will say to me in that day, Lord Lord have I not prophesied in thy name? in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, Depart from me for I knew you not, ye that work iniquity.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • Blablabla

      Just another brainwashed Christian citing a work of fiction as fact.
      Blablabla is all we hear, maybe it's your stupid religion the one that your "God" was calling iniquitous seeing all the damage and division it causes in the world.

      October 5, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  18. Janie

    Is there anyone who
    Ever remembers changing there mind from
    The paint on a sign?
    Is there anyone who really recalls
    Ever breaking rank at all
    For something someone yelled real loud one time

    Everyone believes
    In how they think it ought to be
    Everyone believes
    And they're not going easily

    Belief is a beautiful armor
    But makes for the heaviest sword
    Like punching under water
    You never can hit who you're trying for

    Some need the exhibition
    And some have to know they tried
    It's the chemical weapon
    For the war that's raging on inside

    Everyone believes
    From emptiness to everything
    Everyone believes
    And no ones going quietly

    We're never gonna win the world
    We're never gonna stop the war
    We're never gonna beat this
    If belief is what we're fighting for

    October 2, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
    • shecky

      very nice poem that places a relevance value on belief. thank you.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  19. arceon

    what? another religion? people are really frickin stupid.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
    • shecky

      fragmentation of religion promotes individuality. understanding that any single person's beliefs are truly theirs and no one else's makes it fairly simple to do the math. there are in fact nearly 7 billion religions on this planet, some of which have many concordances.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  20. Jane

    Well it does make more sense than Catholicism.

    October 2, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
    • Frank

      How does performing rituals and dancing around Stonehenge, which we don't even know what it's for, make more sense than Catholicism. Everyone just wants to bash the Church. It's so trendy. Yes, people in the Church have messed up pretty badly a bunch of times and we're going through some things now, but they all have their problems.
      If you had a bad experience with someone in the Church, I'm sorry. I apologize on their behalf. I have to do some healing, too.

      October 2, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
    • Tell_Me

      @Frank,

      Nice of you to apologize for that... I'm sure that you mean well.

      Why, however, whenever someone has left the Church, do Catholics have to say, "There, there, dear, you must have been wounded." Sure I have a few wounds, but they are not by any stretch of the imagination the reason that I do not believe the myth, fantasy and supersti-tion any more.

      October 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • Frank

      Did I say they were? I said "if". People have to make up their own minds.

      October 2, 2010 at 7:44 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.