Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images
Druids perfom a pagan Samhain blessing ceremony at Stonehenge.
Scott Maniquet October 2, 2010 – 1:01 pm
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
– Spinal Tap, “Stonehenge“
Druids may have been around since before the dawn of history, but their modern heirs have only now managed to achieve the status of a state-recognized religion.
London’s Telegraph reports that it took a group known as The Druid Network four years to win recognition from the Charity Commission for England and Wales. The group now has charity status and a separate listing in official surveys of religious believers.
“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,” Phil Ryder, Chair of Trustees for The Druid Network, told the Telegraph.
In its detailed report, the Charity Commission even addressed ancient Roman claims that Druids committed human sacrifices, but decided that there is “no evidence of any significant detriment or harm” arising from its modern incarnation.
The victory also opens the door for other groups with, shall we say, relatively obscure beliefs to try for full-fledged religion status.
“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,” Druid Network founder, Emma Restall said.
In 2003, the BBC estimated that there were around 10,000 Druids in Britain. There is no number for Canada, but a 2001 census count lists 21,080 pagans in the country. (And yes, the Druid Network has branches here.)
So what exactly do modern Druids believe?
Because the original Druids didn’t pass down any doctrines — no one knows who they were or what they were doing, remember? — the modern edition is not exactly codified either.
One Druid website explains it so:
One of the most striking characteristics of Druidism is the degree to which it is free of dogma and any fixed set of beliefs or practices. In this way it manages to offer a spiritual path, and a way of being in the world that avoids many of the problems of intolerance and sectarianism that the established religions have encountered.
Since Druidry is a spiritual path – a religion to some, a way of life to others – Druids share a belief in the fundamentally spiritual nature of life. Some will favour a particular way of understanding the source of this spiritual nature, and may feel themselves to be animists, pantheists, polytheists, monotheists or duotheists. Others will avoid choosing any one conception of Deity, believing that by its very nature this is unknowable by the mind.
There you have it.