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Is Druidry a Religion?

October 4th, 2010

News has hit the headlines that Druidry has been classed as a religion by the UK Charity Commissioners. Like everyone else here I’m still digesting what this means. This is the Druid Network’s initiative and it’s out of the blue for us in OBOD, we haven’t been involved. (Which is fine – consult 4 druids as they say, and you get 5 opinions.) But this means it needs careful consideration. On the one hand this could well be a positive move, bearing in mind though, as one commentator said: “there is in the UK no real way for a religion to be recognised officially as in the US, as our constitution relies on precedent and there is no single mechanism. The Charities Commission is an important body which regulates the activities of bodies constituted as charities (which Druid groups can now be), but its ruling will have no effect on other areas of UK law such as the registration of places of worship for weddings etc., until these different areas are tested in court or ruled on by other bodies or the Home Office. It does set a useful and helpful precedent though and opens the door for other Pagan groups who want to be constituted as charities.”

However, I – and many other OBOD members – have always liked the way Druidry has avoided being ‘boxed-in’ to one definition: a spiritual path to some people, a magical tradition to another, a religion to a third, a philosophy or cultural phenomenon to another, and so on. As soon as you start on the path of trying to define Druidry you run into problems: look at the last sentence of the quote I gave: ‘other Pagan groups’ – well some Druids don’t consider themselves Pagan so you’ve got a problem right away. Not all people who call themselves Druids would agree with all aspects of the definition of Druidry that The Druid Network have agreed with the Charity Commission. As with many things there are positives and negatives and it’s a question of weighing these up and looking more closely at the implications of the decision.

13 Responses to “Is Druidry a Religion?”

  1. Technically Druidry is a religion.

    The dictionary says this about the word Religion:

    a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
    b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
    2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
    3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
    4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.

    However, I think it’s down to personal choice as to whether we call it our religion, our spirituality or our faith. I don’t mind what label people give to my path, I’m a Druid, my path has taken years to build, it is, by the nature of druidry, continually changing. I’m proud of my faith, I’ve never hidden it, I didn’t need any institution’s “approval” for it, but I am glad we have this recognition. What we do need to watch for are those who abuse it now.

      • It is indeed hard to pin down. I’ve even tried explaining it as something between, Animism, Patheism and Theosophy, but, in itself, that explanation is confusing. The term religion makes it easy to grasp for the masses, whereas more ambiguous terms can sometimes end in confusion. That’s why I’m happy with Druidry being reffered to as a Religion. my personal term for it is my “faith”.

  2. I’m glad that you have been able to blog about this and I am also reassured that OBOD members share my concerns.

    I am very supportive of the more practical results of this ruling, with Phil Ryder saying in an article that it would be easier to hire venues etc. for religious gatherings which is great. Having a legal leg to stand on stops people who don’t understand the more “unusual” groups from discriminating unnecessarily.

    I must confess that I am shocked that OBOD was not consulted on this. As the biggest order in the UK (or at least pretty high up there!), I would have thought your door would have been the first that they knocked on! As I know Emma Restall-Orr is involved with all of this, I assume BDO was consulted, and I have always felt their definition of Druidry incompatible with my own. However, choosing not to join their order was simple, but having such a definition exist in a more legal context is slightly more tricky to work around.

    Defining most Pagan traditions is incredibly difficult and I would never even try to do so. If this doesn’t affect people dramatically then that is fine. I am concerned however that while TDN say they have 350 members, they have also referred to the 10,000 figure listed by the BBC in 2003. As this refers to a more general UK statistic of Druid numbers and NOT members of the TDN, they have essentially tried to speak for many who they do not represent and who they do not receive membership money from! I am not one of these statistics as I have never officially declared my status but I’m sure many of the “10,000” who are not of the TDN way of thinking would be pretty miffed at this point!

    They have come across as trying to be as fair and balanced as possible but reading their website in more detail, there are a lot of inconsistencies and this laying a claim to the wider Druid community, even though they still say that their views are only their own interpretations, just seems confusing.

    I worry about the typical man-on-the-street who won’t get these complexities and who will take this definition as fact and leave it at that. I also worry that all recognised Orders are listed in the TDN directory. The rules for this directory, as listed on the TDN website states that all those listed have to agree with the Druid interpretation of the directory organiser. I spotted many a Christian Druid order listed there, which according to the TDN’s new constitution apparently doesn’t count anymore.

    I could write about this for days so I’ll stop now. I hope that more will come out in the wash a bit and that this ridiculously complicated and baffling decision will somehow become slightly more comprehensive. I wish you luck with trying to pin down the exact details and I hope to read more about your thoughts on here.

    All the best and thanks again. By the way, I’m still on the path. This scared me but it hasn’t put me off! /|

  3. As the member of The Druid Network that had responsibility for making this application to the Charity Commission perhaps I can shed some light on the points that Philip raises – and he isn’t alone.
    When we first looked at who we should register TDN with, and as an organization that takes money from members and therefore has an income we legally had to register, we made the decision that it would have to be with the Charity Commission – TDN Ltd somehow didn’t sit well.
    So, we had to register!
    In English Charity Law there are ‘Heads of Charity’ under which you can register, one being religion. A registered charity can only do what it states in its constitutional objects – if it does something different it will be de-registered.
    So, we had to register as a religion – that is what our objects state we are!
    We then had to demonstrate to the CC that indeed the beliefs and practice as given in the Foreword to TDN’s Constitution met the criteria under English Law of religion.
    It would have been arrogant in the extreme for us to just place what a few folk who consider their path to be that of a druid to place their own personal thoughts without agreement from the wider community. TDN approached all the major Druid organizations, including OBOD, for their views on our Foreword. All agreed that it was the bare foundation of druid belief and practice, again including your good self Philip.
    After much discussion with the CC we convinced them of the validity of that which we placed in our Foreword and therefore the CC agreed that the druid network is an organization whose objects further religion for the benefit of the public.
    Note it does NOT say Druid Religion!
    As with all other belief systems there is diversity and that is nowhere more apparent than in Druidry – but we are not unique. All religions have denominations within them and groups with their differing practices. Christianity probably has more than most and Druidry is no different.
    TDN has not defined Druidry for all Druids – only that given in our Foreword – others are free to disagree.
    I accept that there are those who do not like the word religion with all its associations – neither do I – but fact remains we are one as defined by English Charity Law. I’d prefer there to not be heads of charity and applicants be judged solely on the public benefit, but we are stuck with the present system.
    In conclusion, TDN had to register with the CC as a religion and being The Druid Network that was the one we registered as. But, it does not prevent others from having different beliefs or practice nor does it mean Druidry can not be seen as a philosophy or an ethical spiritual path. It was The Druid Network not Druidry that has been accepted.
    We at TDN hope there will be many positive benefits to having this decision

    • Thank you Phil for this clarification. I appreciate it must have been a long struggle to get the approval. In the ‘heat of the moment’ it’s easy for journalists etc to over-simplify things, such as the distinction between the network rather than druidry per se being approved and so on – leading to the sort of nonsense we find in the Daily Mail today (no surprise there though!)

  4. I appreciate your concern here. I have to admit that I am not a UK citizen and do not know the details of exactly how religious institutions gain legal status in the UK… but something has started to worry me about these objections faulting TDN for pursuing religious charity status.

    I do not necessarily see TDN’s charity status as a ruling which forces all Druids to agree with their particular conception of Druidry, any more than granting legal charity status to one Christian group forces all other Christian groups to conform to their particular theology. On the other hand, it certainly sounds like what some folks are saying is that if not all Druids agree that Druidry is religious, then no Druids should seek religious status under UK law. But for those Druids who do see Druidry as a religious tradition (and I am one of them), this seems to put an unfair restriction on our ability to seek legal recognition for our various institutions and their activities.

    I am not sure why TDN should have had to consult with OBOD before choosing to put their time, energy and money towards pursuing this goal… any more than the Church of England should have to consult with the Catholic Church, or the American Humanist Association should have to consult with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. TDN was pursuing legal status as a religious charity; since OBOD is neither explicitly religious, or a charity, I do not see why TDN should have any obligation to consult with OBOD on the matter. And I say this as a member of OBOD myself, who is not a member of TDN precisely because I do not agree with all of their ideas about theology, deity, etc.

    While I appreciate that you and others might like Druidry “just the way it is,” I know that over here in the U.S. there is an on-going struggle in the Pagan community to receive the respect and acceptance given readily to other religious traditions. In many ways, I am not okay with everything staying “the way it is,” because it means that my religion will remain a “second tier” religion, or worse, a reason for discrimination and condemnation. That does not mean I think all Druids have to be religious, or Pagan – when I first began to study Druidry, I was myself still a Christian, and I continue to hold respect for that tradition and for many other religions. But it makes me very uncomfortable and worried to hear disapproval rather than congratulation for TDN’s accomplishment, with the implication that those of us who take Druidry seriously as a deeply spiritual tradition should check our commitment at the door for the sake of political correctness.

    But again, perhaps I have a different perspective. One of the largest American Druidic groups is ADF, which for years has been organized specifically as a Pagan religious tradition. It has never stopped any of the rest of us from viewing Druidry as a “way of life” that fits well with non-Pagan paths.

  5. Blimey Michael, that is quite terrifying! I’m glad the Garda took it seriously and discussed things properly with you!

    I suppose my main concern is that TDN have the word “network” in their title. That seems to indicate that they do represent all Druids as we are all networking through them. With everyone being listed on their directory, how could anyone looking out of curiosity ever have any clue otherwise!?

    I accept that this is just the TDN’s interpretation and its just for their own status but it does affect us all in the long run, regardless of what they say.

  6. My version of druidry doesn’t fit those ideas… I don’t have a spiritual leader for a start, I don’t do reverence for a supernatural entity in the way it is meant, and I definitely do not worship.

    My druidry is a connection and a commitment to expanding my consciousness, understanding and connection to Spirit (meaning the great spirit/life force/universal energy of all living things and more), I am also committed to breaking the confines of conditioning of the soul and limiting beliefs within me and to help those I work with.

    It really is up to the individual to define druidry as it suits them. I think that when some people try to put criteria and controls on druids, others will just get on with their own way of being, moving away from those who try to control them…

    is there really a need for some people to OWN druidry? can they just not let go of the need for structure in their spiritual practise?

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