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October 7th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Take: So who are the Druids, anyway?

Editor's Note: Philip Carr-Gomm is a writer whose books include What Do Druids Believe? and The Book of English Magic and Wild Wisdom Meditations.

By Philip Carr-Gomm, Special to CNN

The Druids have hit the headlines in the recent days because religious charity status has been granted in the UK to The Druid Network - a group set up to foster Druid values and projects.

This has caused excitement in a number of circles. Many Druids and pagans see this as a major triumph. Others are upset because they don’t think Druidry is a religion, they feel it is a philosophy or a way of life. 

And it’s worked at least one journalist into a frazzle. In The Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips revealed her disrespect and ignorance for many cultures and groups of people by writing such nonsense as "without the Judeo-Christian heritage there would be no morality and no true human rights," in a column about Druids.

While one journalist is flustered, most are simply bemused because - they don’t really know much about the Druids.

I've  written books about Druidry and help to lead the world’s largest Druid group (The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids) so allow me to give a whistle-stop tour:

About three hundred years ago, a revival of interest in the pre-Christian religion of the Druids occurred in Britain, and this gave rise to three distinct movements.

One emerged out of the growing pride in the Welsh language, was entirely cultural, and involved the use of Druid ceremonial to dignify ‘Eisteddfodau’ - festivals of literature, music and performance.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has been inducted as such an honorary Druid, as was Queen Elizabeth in 1946.

Another movement evolved as a form of fraternal association, akin to Freemasonry. At its height this Druid movement had over a million members spread across the Commonwealth and included Winston Churchill.

So much for Druidry being ‘weird’ - it has been part of mainstream British society for centuries.

The third kind of Druid to emerge has been the ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ druid, as opposed to the cultural or fraternal.

From the late 1980s this much smaller group of people has grown exponentially. The established religions were failing to speak to a new generation who longed for an approach that reverenced the Earth and Nature, and Druidry became at the turn of the century a ‘green religion’ that now has perhaps 50,000 or so followers around the world.

One of the intriguing aspects of Druidry, which gets even Druids confused and excited when they talk about it, is that it doesn’t behave in the way most religions behave. For starters, it combines effectively with other spiritual approaches: it’s non-exclusivist and universalist. I’ve met Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids and Hindu Druids.

It has no saviour figure, is light on dogma, and strong on ethical behaviour. Most religions have a magical seam running through them (if the eucharist isn’t magical I don’t what is).

But the established religions separated from both science and magic a long time ago, and relegate an interest in magic to the forbidden realm of ‘the occult’.  Druidry, by contras,t is an openly magical path - a spirituality that sees life as essentially magical and each of us as co-creators in this magic.

As such Druidry is not the recent invention of Romantics, New Agers, or Hippies, but stands in a long and historically linked line of magical schools that stretch back in time via the Victorian magicians of the Golden Dawn , the Cunning Folk of popular magic, the alchemists and Anglo-Saxon wizards to - yes - even the ancient Druids.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Philip Carr-Gomm.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Druids • Europe • Opinion • Paganism • United Kingdom

soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. Tess

    I think its great that this has been accpeted, but why it took so long I'll never know. Truly all forms of paganism are religions and have been around for centuries longer than Christianity or Islam, even Judism is a baby in comparison. Personally I find these religions much more easily accepted than any with a single diety who is all powerful, etc like Christianity. They just beleive in the inate power of all things and the power of nature and ourselves within nature, which is pretty amazing. Thanks for postingI

    October 7, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  2. mkat

    What a beautiful philosophy/religion! I don't pretend to understand it well, but it sounds interesting. So peaceful and kind to the earth!

    October 7, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  3. Ali (Meadowsweet & Myrrh)

    Thanks for the wonderful article, and I'm glad to see this getting so much coverage in the mainstream media (though they do tend to botch the facts a bit, don't they? O well).

    I am somewhat disappointed, though, to see so much childish mocking and playground teasing going on in the comment thread. I suppose some people feel threatened by anything they don't understand, and need to make sure everyone knows how ridiculous it is so that no one discovers, upon further investigation, that it is possible to be an intelligent, emotionally mature and psychologically nuanced human being and still appreciate the wisdom and inspiration of a "weird" and "made-up" philosophy.... or maybe some people just can't tell video games from reality?

    October 7, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  4. Philip Carr-Gomm

    This is the final paragraph I wrote for this blog post that was was edited out – probably because it just made the post too long:
    Despite the way Druidry is embedded in culture and history, its emphasis on observing eight seasonal festivals, such as the solstices, is highly contemporary and speaks directly to those who long for a deeper connection with Nature. It’s not only Druids who have woken up to the crises of mass species extinctions, climate change, and environmental degradation through pollution, over-population and resource depletion. People of all faiths and none have started to realize what a mess we’re in and have begun to cross traditional religious divides to connect instead with our common humanity and our need to protect the Earth. On the summer solstice this year I stood on the summit of a hill near our town to greet the dawn with about fifty people: young and old, men, women and children. Some were Christian (including a priest), some Druid, some Pagan, but most probably wouldn’t want a label for their spirituality: they were there because they cared about the Earth and wanted to feel closer to it. And as the sun rose over the landscape there was a hush – a tangible sense of awe fell upon this small band of people standing there on a hill almost at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

    October 7, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  5. cassie

    the emphasis on nature and the spiritual composition of all living things finds much to recommend it. It's not about "solving problems" it's about being a part of the great creation. American Indians have some similar beliefs. It appears to be non violent which is a pleasant change from many religions. I've always felt a kinship with the Druids.

    October 7, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
    • Bob

      Ahhh, a Zen sort of thing then. I can dig it.

      October 7, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  6. NL

    "So much for Druidry being ‘weird’ – it has been part of mainstream British society for centuries."

    I wonder how many Tea Partiers read that and gave a sigh of relief that the USA was founded by Americans and not the British?

    October 7, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  7. tummy growl

    Arrgh! I'm so hungry I could eat a tree!

    October 7, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  8. patti

    You can do what you want as long as it does not hurt others. As paul mccartney says in the song... Live and let die!

    October 7, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  9. Muneef

    Wonder if there are Muslim Druides as in the other religions?? Any way this act of establishing and recognizing this path of belief as I would assume a move resulted by decline of Christionity and Judaism vs Islam and since they can not bring back youngsters to believe or be Christions or Jews since their school teaching was telling them to disbelief in the existence of God, so they had no alternative but to gather them under this umbrella to join them a political weight out numbering all Three Dominant religions. But since those named as Druids will be made of many several branches of beliefs or disbeliefs then expect it will explode in to many Parties or otherwise all such fragments will be ruled by One representing Party?!

    October 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  10. Greg

    I appreciate any opportunity to discuss religions that are outside the realm of the "traditional" monotheistic category. PCG has long been a respected voice in the druid community. An excellent article.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • Bob

      I have to agree. Discussing religion is very interesting. I personally don't like how members of any faith look down on others. To me they're all equally ridiculous.

      That's not to say they don't have good messages or don't do good things. I just find the dogma to be laughable. 🙂

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

      That is to say, how Catholics look down on Druids, etc. Like their religion is any more valid. 🙂

      October 7, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Bob

      Hey Bob..! Looks like you are definitely on a roll today... LOL.. 🙂

      Keep it up..... I think you are 'owning' this article...!

      Peace...

      October 7, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  11. Kaku

    I'm pretty sure Bob was being facetious when he mentioned his homebrew religion Ferengi Farian. But he's also a bear taking huge dumps in the forest. So he's being...feces-tious?

    Moving along, we must now cover the perplexing reality that dog people will be able to transform into dogcats and dogbears in a scant two months.

    October 7, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  12. Robert

    Bob, go home, little boy, and take your coins and profit .with you! Do not play the star here anymore. You are just another pathetic little being who talks just because he can`t keep his mouth shout. I know your ego refuses to believe this, but you don`t have all the answers, so it would be best to mind your own business and most of all, get a life! The world is not interested in your illustrious-annonymous personae, bullying druidry or other concepts that are totally foreign to you. Can`t you people feel men enough if you don`t offend others? LAME!

    October 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • Bob

      @Robert You are totally correct. I mean, your in-depth psycho analysis of me based on all of 12 lines of text is uncanny. You must have been at the top of your class in university. Do I have to pay you for your services. I suppose the coins and profit you alluded to wil be sufficient recompense. Although, I'm not sure when I'll be getting the cheque, nor from whom. Probably Activision, because they've been every interested in breaking into the untapped advertising potential that the CNN Faith Blog forums is. There must be literally dozens of dollars to be had.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Bob

      @Robert I would also never think about bullying Druids. I think they're fantastic. I mean, I've said on numerous times that I'd love to be a huge bear. Think about it, running through the trees, taking massive dumps and rolling around in them. Then I'd go to the nearest lake and be a jerk by swatting salmon out of the river. Not to eat, just to be a dink. I mean, what has salmon ever done for us. Nothin.

      October 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Robert

      You said, "Can`t you people feel men enough if you don`t offend others? "

      Dude! Dumb question. I feel like a man no matter what I do.

      If the truth offends you, maybe it's because you have doubts.

      October 8, 2010 at 8:55 am |
  13. Bob

    Anyone familiar with the mastery that the feral druids will get come Cataclysm? All I can see is that we're getting Mangle and Vengence. LAME.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  14. David Johnson

    It is funny, that yet another make-believe religion is now accepted. Of course, no proof can be offered that this one is real either.

    What is the litmus test for a new religion? That it be no more unbelievable than the Christian or Muslim religions?

    October 7, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • Bob

      @David Johnson I an avowed "Ferengi Farian". That means I worship coin and profit. As such, one of the core tenents of my religion is to not pay taxes. I hope to be made into a real religion soon.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • NL

      Bob-
      You can avoid paying taxes by heading any church. Just take an online course in how to be a pastor, open up you rec room to followers and hire a tax consultant. Within no time you'll be driving Mercedes and wearing $2000.00 white suits.

      October 7, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Bob

      For a few bucks under the table, I will show up at each of your prayer meetings. You can heal me of a new ailment each time.

      Imagine me entering in a wheelchair and exiting on roller skates!

      And they say prayer doesn't work! All it takes is faith and willingness to be healed. I am willing!

      October 8, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  15. sundruid

    Wonderful article – what a great, inspiring spirituality for today's problems!

    October 7, 2010 at 11:12 am |
    • Bob

      Spirituality doesn't solve problems. It only makes people more comfortable with the problems.

      To solve problems you need to put in a little elbow grease and use your mind. 🙂

      October 7, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • Bob

      I think this thread should become a pre cata druid tree change thread. It'd accomplish more.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:24 am |
    • David Johnson

      @Bob

      Yep, well said!

      October 7, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  16. Kaku

    Bob, I noticed there's no mention of the Doomchicken spec. It's ok. I'm ashamed of it too.

    October 7, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • Bob

      I know. I sobbed into my latte this morning because of it.

      And for all those who say this is off topic, it's not. There are more WoW Druids then real druids. So we're actually the real druids.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  17. Reality

    Wicca and Paganism to include Druids?

    Hmmm?

    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 7, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  18. Kaku

    They nerfed your swipe, Bob. You don't want to be a Druid anymore!

    October 7, 2010 at 10:14 am |
    • Bob

      Nah, we have two swipes now. One that is a flat hit and the other that is modded based on bleed damage. I'll just have to tab target to alternate lacerate for AOE threatins.

      Although, for single target, druid still probably will be on top, given that crit is a mitigation stat for us.

      October 7, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  19. Ag MacLachlan

    Great to read this, Most people I've encountered have been either delighted or intrigued by this news, I can hardly wait to hear a Druidic parlimentarian being sworn in! Thank you & kind regards! : )

    October 7, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  20. Bob

    I love druids. Who wouldn't want to be able to shapeshift into a bear to take big hits, into a cat for leet damage or a tree to heal your allies.

    Hi, my name is Bob and I'm a level 80 Tauren Druid.

    October 7, 2010 at 9:07 am |
    • Muhammad's Turban

      LOL @ Bob!!!! Amen!

      October 7, 2010 at 10:08 am |
    • Rins

      haha, I have fond memories of raiding with our resident bear druid when I played (quit a good 3 years ago or so). One of our MTs had a "bear durid" (spelling intentional) song that he made up...it was quite amusing. I miss that group of characters:).

      October 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • NL

      If you want to join see the Ancient Order of Druids in America.

      http://www.aoda.org/

      October 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • James Carrington

      I'm also a Tauren Druid, World of Warcraft is fun, but I happen to be a real life Druid too, have been for many years, alas, there is no hearthstone set at stonehenge XD

      October 9, 2010 at 9:05 am |
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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.