The following news report was posted on our Breaking News site this morning and documents the establishment of the pagan practice of druidry as an official religion in England.
The UK’s Charity Commission for England and Wales has awarded charitable status to the Druid Network, which officially establishes the pagan practice as a religion.
The Telegraph is reporting that the Druid Network, which was established in 2003, will now be eligible for tax breaks and other privileges reserved for more mainstream denominations.
Phil Ryder, Chair of Trustees for The Druid Network, said it took four years for the group to be recognized by the regulator.
“It was a long and at times frustrating process, exacerbated by the fact that the Charity Commissioners had no understanding of our beliefs and practices, and examined us on every aspect of them,” he said. “Their final decision document runs to 21 pages, showing the extent to which we were questioned in order to finally get the recognition we have long argued for.”
As a result of their cooperation with the Commission, officials say other groups will have an easier go of government recognition.
“The Charity Commission now has a much greater understanding of Pagan, animist, and polytheist religions, so other groups from these minority religions – provided they meet the financial and public benefit criteria for registration as charities – should find registering a much shorter process than the pioneering one we have been through,” said Emma Restall Orr, founder of The Druid Network.
Historically, it is believed that the ancient Celts were served by a priestly class known as the Druids, who could be either male or female, and who were polytheistic (the worship of many gods) in their belief system. The Druids were considered to be intermediaries between the gods and mankind and to be people of great learning and discernment who fulfilled a wide range of functions within the community. The ritual killing of humans and animals is believed to have been a part of the Druidic culture. England’s Stonehenge, thought to have been built by Druids, is perhaps the best known artifact of this ancient cult.
Even though there is great diversity in belief and practice among today’s Druids, the official Commission documentation recognizes the Druid Network as a religion that worships nature, particularly the sun and the earth, and who also believe in the spirits of places such as mountains and rivers as well as “divine guides” known as Brighid and Bran. The Commission’s document references the belief that Druids once engaged in human sacrifice, but claims to have found “no evidence of any significant detriment or harm” arising from modern druid beliefs. They also recognize as common practices of Druidry the marking of eight major festivals each year which revolve around the different phases of the moon, as well as rites of passage and gatherings of bards on sacred hills, known as “gorsedd.”
Because all charities must demonstrate their benefit to the public, Druids say they qualify because their followers seek to conserve Britain’s heritage as well as the environment.
Even though there are only 350 members of the Druid Network, a BBC report in 2003 claimed as many as 10,000 adherents across the UK.
The American Religious Identification Survey says there are approximately 30,000 druids in the United States, some from British branches, but others from American orders that began with the Reformed Druids of North America in 1912.