Archive for October 3rd, 2010

Druidry has been recognised as an official religion in Britain for the first time, thousands of years after its adherents first worshipped in the country.

The Druid Network has been given charitable status by the Charity Commission for England and Wales, the quango that decides what counts as a genuine faith as well as regulating fundraising bodies.

It guarantees the modern group, set up in 2003, valuable tax breaks but also grants the ancient religion equal status to more mainstream denominations. This could mean that Druids, the priestly caste in Celtic societies across Europe, are categorised separately in official surveys of religious believers

Supporters say the Charity Commission’s move could also pave the way for other minority faiths to gain charitable status.

Phil Ryder, Chair of Trustees for The Druid Network, said it had taken four years for the group to be recognised 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. 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,” he said.

Emma Restall Orr, founder of The Druid Network, added: “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.”

In its assessment of the Druid Network’s application, the Charity Commission accepts that Druids worship nature, in particular the sun and the earth but also believe in the spirits of places such as mountains and rivers as well as “divine guides” such as Brighid and Bran.

The document lists the “commonality of practice” in Druidry, including its eight major festivals each year; rituals at different phases of the moon; rites of passage and gatherings of bards on sacred hills, known as “gorsedd”.

All charities must now demonstrate their benefit to the public, and Druidry was said to qualify since its followers are keen to conserve Britain’s heritage as well as preserve the natural environment.

The document even addresses the claims made by the Romans about Druids committing human sacrifice, but finds “no evidence of any significant detriment or harm” arising from modern beliefs.

It notes that although there are only 350 members of the Druid Network, a BBC report in 2003 claimed as many as 10,000 people followed the ancient faith across the country.

Membership of the Network costs £10 a year but ritual ceremonies such as that marking the summer solstice at Stonehenge are open to all.

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK.  The Best Tours in Wiltshire

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Although Druids are believed to have existed throughout Celtic societies in Europe during the Iron Age, almost all the surviving evidence about them is found in the writings of later Roman authors.
Druids at Stonehenge

Julius Caesar wrote one of the first, and most detailed, accounts of Druids, explaining that along with the “knights” they were the highest-ranking orders in Gallic societies.

He said they were “engaged in things sacred” but Druids also appeared to function as judges, as they decreed “rewards and punishments” if there were murders or disputes over boundaries or inheritance.

Although they worshipped nature, Caesar claimed that Druids made human sacrifices to appease the gods including burning people to death inside “figures of vast size”, a ritual depicted vividly in the classic horror film, The Wicker Man.

Tacitus claimed the altars of Druids in Anglesey were “drenched with the blood of prisoners” while other Roman authors told how they sacrificed white bulls in groves formed of oak trees.

Pliny described Druids as “magicians” who wore white robes and used golden sickles to cut mistletoe, a sacred plant which they believed had healing powers. This description lives on in the figure of Getafix, the Druid in the Asterix books.

Druidry was suppressed during the Roman occupation but interest in it was revived in the 18th century as the ancient stone circles at Avebury and Stonehenge – which actually pre-date Druids – were examined properly for the first time.

Followers began to hold ceremonies known as “gorsedd”, where bards would gather on hills or sacred mounds, with the first held at Primrose Hill in 1792.

These events continue, particularly at the Eisteddfod celebration of traditional Welsh culture where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the former Chief Constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom, have both been inducted as honorary Druids and given Bardic names.

Druids hold festivals eight times a year to mark stages in the solar and lunar cycles. At the summer solstice, Druids gather at Stonehenge to greet the dawn. One of the best-known modern Druids, who has often led protests against restricted access to the site, is a former soldier who changed his name to King Arthur Pendragon.

See also ‘Stonehenge recognised as a religion in England’ October 2nd 2010

Stonehenge Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Ancient History

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