By Toutatis! Druidry recognised as religion deserving of charitable status

By Legal Eagle

People sometimes ask me what I teach in Trusts law. Among other things, I teach about charities and the requirements for establishing that a charitable trust has an allowed “charitable purpose”.

One of the four charitable purposes under the common law is advancement of religion. Generally, the common law assumes that some religion is better than none, unless the tenets of the religion are “adverse to the very foundations of all religion, and […] are subversive of all morality.” (Thornton v Howe, see also the High Court in Church of the New Faith v Commissioner of Payroll Tax (Vic)). Thus, it is generally assumed that religion is for the public benefit, unless the religion is a “closed” religion which does not mingle with the community (see eg, Gilmour v Coats). Even then, courts in Australia have been willing to give charitable status to exclusive religions or closed orders where the practices gives comfort to believers (see eg. Gobbo J in Crowther v Brophy).

In contrast to Australia, the UK has replaced the common law criteria for charities with certain statutory criteria under the Charities Act 2006 (UK). Section 3(2) of the Charities Act states that in determining whether a purpose is charitable, “it is not to be presumed that a purpose of a particular description is for the public benefit.”

Interestingly, the Druid Network has just obtained charitable status in a recent decision of the British Charity Commission. The Daily Telegraph reports:

[The decision] 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.

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”.

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.

I find the rise of neo-paganism and neo-druidism very interesting. I wonder how many people accept Druidry as a faith in Britain?

The Romans reported the Druids practiced human sacrifice. Caesar said that the Gauls burned human sacrifices in a “Wicker Man“. The poor modern day druids had to deal with this in their submission to the Charity Commission. Understandably, The Druid Network rejects this particular tradition, as well as the practice of animal sacrifice. Paragraphs [64] – [67] of the Commission’s decision notes:

The Druid Network acknowledges that there may be public misconceptions about Druidry and the Constitution addresses this:

While sacrifice is a core notion within most world spiritual traditions, within Druidry it is confused by historical accounts of the killing of both human and animal victims. No such practice is deemed acceptable within modern Druidry. What is sacrificed within the tradition today is that which we value most highly in life and hold to with most passion: time, security, certainty, comfort, convenience, ignorance, and the like. Indeed, most Druidic sacrifice is expressed through work that benefits the wider community and the planet as a whole, such as environmental volunteering, ethical consumerism, spiritual education, dissemination of information, caring for family and community (notably, children, the sick, the elderly and dying) and creative expression.

Dr Graham commented on the notion of sacrifice, in his report, describing it as “benefitting others before oneself“. The Board Members accepted this was a core belief and practice of many religions.

The Board Members noted that The Druid Network has adopted a child protection policy.

The Board Members found no evidence of any significant detriment or harm arising from the beliefs and practices of The Druid Network and that there was nothing under this sub-principle that would affect the assessment of public benefit in this case.

I have read similar justifications as to why animal sacrifice is no longer practiced in Judaism (contra Leviticus). The argument in the commentary I read was that prayers stood in for animal sacrifice. Religions often do this over time. Certainly I wouldn’t want Druidry to return to human sacrifice! Nonetheless, I think that the dark side of paganism should not be ignored or downplayed. The thing that I rather like about historical paganism, but which scares me at the same time, is the recognition of the destructive and cruel side of life as natural. The film The Wicker Man does a great job of showing both the positive and the profoundly negative aspects of paganism (reviewed by SL here).

I remember feeling rather dubious about the idea of a God who loves us during RE class at age 7 or so. I wondered, How could this God love us, yet allow such terrible things happen to His people? (I’m still wondering, by the way.) If the gods are amoral and fickle, this problem disappears, although such gods are less comforting. Pagan gods are equally liable to destroy as to create. It seems to me that paganism has to have traditions and gods which embody that destructive and somewhat scary aspect, otherwise it just becomes “fluffwicca”. Destruction and change can have a public benefit too, as acknowledged by Shiva’s cosmic dance.

[The picture is Getafix from Asterix and Obelix. Do you know, I only “got” his name recently? I do love Asterix and Obelix.]


  1. Posted October 9, 2010 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    One strongly suspects that this has become the Saturday chit-chat thread, unfortunately it’s too interesting to leave to simple chit chat. To that end, please feel free to post chit-chatty stuff on last week’s Saturday chit-chat thread:

  2. Posted October 9, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    LE… Not getting Getafix?? Shame! I wish I could remember the names from when we read the originals in “Pilote”: were they different? Names like Vercingetorix don’t seem conducive to French puns, but I could be wrong.

    I note that Archbishop Rowan Williams was offered, and accepted (to some outrage from the usual suspects) an honorary druid “priesthood”. Now, if Canterbury accepts it as not incompatible with CofE mores, then surely British courts can’t object to druids on moral grounds.

    But, given the hard atheism (but not agnosticism) is a statement of faith on matters theological, and together with Pastafarianism, obviously act in the public’s good through promoting scientific thinking (the best thing you can do for the economy according to a recent debate at, and righties go for that as a benefit trickling to all), then the Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster, if not atheist organizations, should be charities too.

    Some readers here might be interested in the current Economist debate, now in rebuttal round, here (you’ll need to register to vote/comment, ballot stuffing via cookie clearing won’t work, but you can change your vote).

    Motion: "This house believes that religion is a force for good.&
    quot; Live dates: October 5th – 15th 2010. Current round: Rebuttals Current voting: PRO 28% CON 72%

    Haven’t gone through all the comments and arguments, but I expect this druid news, and certainly tax benefits, has got a mention.

  3. Posted October 9, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Umm, not quite Dave. Rowan Williams is originally from a village called Ystradgynlais (astra-gan-lice) in the Swansea valley near where I used to live. It’s a natively welsh speaking area, now reluctantly bi-lingual. So it’s not really surprising that having become Archbishop of Canturbury…

    Dr Williams became a member of the highest of the three orders of the Gorsedd of Bards – a 1,300-strong circle of Wales’ key cultural contributors – in a ceremony at this year’s National Eisteddfod celebration of Welsh culture in St Davids, Pembrokeshire.

    BBC news

    It has been described as a “welsh honours system” so political and cultural figures of significance are often inducted, along with senior writers and poets in the welsh language (the National Eisteddfod still awards a chair for poetry, and um, it IS a chair). It’s essentially a big Ekka with a lot more culture that moves around Wales.

    Any relation to the religion of druidry is entirely aesthetic, otherwise the Chapels would never have stood for it.

  4. Posted October 9, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: Thanksforthefactafix.

    LE in the post said:

    Destruction and change can have a public benefit too, as acknowledged by Shiva’s cosmic dance

    Aah, don’t those pagan rightie economists sacrifice people too? To creative destruction by someone with a name also beginning with “Sh”?


  5. Peter Patton
    Posted October 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink


    Rest assued, after this post no-one will EVER ask you ever again why you teach Trusts law! 🙂

  6. Posted October 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Aah, don’t those pagan rightie economists sacrifice people too? To creative destruction by someone with a name also beginning with “Sh”?

    Adam Shmith?

  7. Posted October 9, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] – meant sound “sh” not spelling… The god schmptr. (and before righties crack it, i’ll admit there is a good point in his work about innovative disruption, but I couldn’t resist the “punning” about the good/evil mix in money-ka-ching dualism)

  8. Posted October 9, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    How could this God love us, yet allow such terrible things happen to His people?

    I used to be pretty convinced by that argument but now, not so much. I don’t know if it holds up in many of the examples of ‘terrible things’ offered… for instance, examples of good people dying in floods or other cases of mass disasters. Folks talk about these events as examples of ‘suffering’, but what do they mean precisely in the context of the timeless existence that (supposedly) the soul partakes in?

    Clearer examples of suffering would be manmade events – war, torture, and the harms (intentional or otherwise) inflicted on some people by others. But in these cases the question is complicated because of the recognition of human will and agency: they are clearly events caused by humans’ own choosing, not ‘acts of god’ like natural disasters.

    And another thing: it would be pretty clumsy of a God to intervene in a disaster, as it was happening, but before people died: because imagining a God intervening in that way all the time would seem to presuppose a God that is not timeless, or eternal, but bound just as much by the rules of time as we are.

    So I’m not as convinced by those arguments as I once was. Then again those counter-arguments bring with them a whole bunch of complications. I have no idea whether it leaves God in a better or worse off position than before. The Book of Job is a good dramatisation of these questions – as you suggest in the linked post.

  9. Posted October 9, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    TimT: Nice pickup on Job, but the Sumerian storm god’s makeover into the omniscient, omnipotent and all-loving things creates constraints that are as binding as those understood by aquinas – even god can’t make the internal angles of a (euclidean) triangle add up to anything other the 180 degress. You need to writhe like Voltaire’s Pangloss to even think escape was possible.

    LE’s young intuition is common, something even CSLewis couldn’t wrestle to the ground, although he claimed victory on points. (Mind you, I’d give award the prize to LE and her kind)

    Of course, an alternative is dualism, which brings us to the problem in so many religions: humankind’s benefactor, the fire/light-bringer (Loki, Prometheus, and when commanded to fiat lux the light maker is… Luci-fer), is always damned by the pantheon heavies (Odin, Zeus, El). Hmmm. At least Zoroastrianism has light/fire as the present of the good guy, equipotent with the forces of darkness, and reliant on human choices to make the difference.

    Mind you, if there is only one deity, then it’s an extremely capricious one, not to be trusted, a cosmic Stalin, with propitiation required maybe but adoration undeserved.

    The problem is that to appeal to a mass market, the christian-mohommedan deity is forced to claim a combination of absolutes that do not add up. At least the god of Abraham and Joshua doesn’t claim absolute moral authority, merely a big stick and arbitrary favoritism, albeit in a constant direction.

    If there is a single deity, it’s merely a force to be endured, subverted and ultimately tamed by the forces of civilization… or injected with heavy doses of mood stabilizers, take your pick.

    I suggest having a look through the collection of hilarious and theologically sophisticated sketches at (“The Planes”, “The Evil” are two sketches in particular that go to the heart of the questions you raise).

    The unbelievers, pagans (and pre-babylonian-exile judaism was essentially a pagan religion) have the virtue of not being totally impossible with only one day’s experience of the planet. The all-powerful all-loving, or “the merciful, the compassionate” god of christians and moslems creates only a gordian logic knot.

    The thing is, religions can only be judged, if only for worthiness of tax concessions, on the phenomenal results of actions of adherents. The noumenal opinions are, if being generous, irrelevant, if being empirical hazardous to society.

    Posted October 9, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    It’s a funny inversion if you can read that Christ is a later incarnation, if you like, of the Prometheus story, oppressed by Satan in the place of Zeus. Also, the Crucifixion story loosely resonates with the destruction of the Egyptian god Osiris by Seth and his resurrection at the behest of Isis, a proto Mary at the Tomb, here. I’ve always been intrigued by the notion of something coming from nothing or vice versa, such a tease.

    The Nataraja link was good, with its foregrounding of intensity and interiority. It also answered a question of mine, as to where to find a particular brand of tea-tea-bag I used to buy at a local supermarket.

  11. Posted October 10, 2010 at 5:22 am | Permalink

    Clearer examples of suffering would be manmade events – war, torture, and the harms (intentional or otherwise) inflicted on some people by others. But in these cases the question is complicated because of the recognition of human will and agency: they are clearly events caused by humans’ own choosing, not ‘acts of god’ like natural disasters.

    Pelagius argued that the consequence of ‘free will’ was that God HAD to basically stand back and let us scr*w up on our own. There can still be a God, and bad things can still happen randomly (natural disasters) or by human behaviour (war, famine etc) but he can chose not to intervene because that’s the price of our being given free will.

    Unfortunately Pelagius didn’t win the argument and the early church went with the omnipotent as well as omniscient definition of God.

  12. Posted October 10, 2010 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    I read this entire article out of a deep and abiding interest in the law of trusts, and a concern about the spread of religious belief in a time when rational thought matters more than ever.

    Oh, who am I fooling? I *loved* Asterix as a kid! Poor old Cacofonix was one of my favourites

  13. Posted October 10, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    [email protected]… No…Lucifer was the fire/light-bringer (via the apple from the tree of knowledge). There are similarities between Jesus and Mithras however, and as you noted, Egyptian myth.

    [email protected]: like you, I’ve a passing interest in heresies, especially why once-accepted views became heresy after nicaea. I must admit origen is not too bad for a thinker for a Christian father… And he took celibacy as seriously as one can unless you are a priest of cybele.

    Posted October 10, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I thought “Pelagius” after DB mentioned Origen. Didn’t go down well in the fourth century, when Augustine was about building his City of God; no place for slackers.

  15. Posted October 10, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    [email protected] Plotinus/Porphyry should be counted as church fathers too I reckon, even though nonXian and definitely unitarian, but even they had “the problem of evil” highlighted by LE – one review of the Ennead I read said “it’s like living in a beautiful crystal palace…and wondering where the toilet is” – well put indeed – you’ve got to have something in either the Neoplatonic or Xtian worldviews to deal with the s**t.

  16. Posted October 10, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Dave – I may have unintentionally bought some of those absolutes you mention into my comment above, though I don’t think really ‘omniscience’ or ‘omnipotence’ are necessary to my arguments above. I was more interested in the viewing of temporal human problems and the ethical concerns from a timeless perspective.

    Reconciling some of the aspects of Christianity may well be, as you say, impossible. Then again, C S Lewis’ valiant attempts to wrestle these problems to the ground (like Jacob wrestling the angel, another Biblical metaphor) are inspiring. I wonder for instance if ‘fate’ vs ‘free will’ are really so opposite: doesn’t an assumption of ‘free will’ imply a knowledge and acceptance of ‘fate’ (ie, the way things are, were, and will be)? How could ‘free will’ be meaningful if we weren’t able to rely upon an established order of things?

    You’re right – Origen did take chastity seriously.

    I’d take it seriously too if I cut off my own balls!

  17. Posted October 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: I cannot believe in “fate”, as this entire universe might be explained as a quantum fluctuation that expanded ex nihilo (similar to the way small black holes shrink by hawking radiation). We’ll be budding off our own universes with random fundamental constants by the end of this century I reckon – making CERN’s descendants creators (or “urges” in theological terms) but not deities – certainly not meddling ones.

    So, “necessary evils” in a theistic universe are just bad luck in a mechanistic one, the product of heisenbergian “uncertain swerves” of the epicureans described in de rerum natura by Lucretius. Evil and Good require mind, an emergent phenomenon. If evil exists in a theistic cosmos, there is certainly mens rea or at least criminal negligence.

    The dualists (e.g. Manichees, Cathars, Bogomils) had the elegant solution that the creator of the real world was Lucifer (probably because of lucifer and fiat lux being cognate).

    Interestingly, the term “buggery” is probably derived from the contraceptive practices of Bogomils/Bulgars, couples avoiding the creation of beings that would suffer, making it an act of religious and moral significance, and a public good for those like me who think a shrinking population is an environmental necessity (hmmm, gay bars and gay advocacy associations as institutions for a public good, with religious cover? There might be an argument for that – dualism is a constantly resurrecting heretical notion in Xtianity).

  18. Posted October 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Look at me arguing about religion, on a Sunday no less. There’s clearly no hope for me.

    I hope no adverse Heisenbergian swerves have come your way this weekend Dave. ‘aveagoodone.

  19. Posted October 11, 2010 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    One for the platonists: is there an ideal form of sh*t?

    At that point, the whole thing becomes rather moot.

    Posted October 11, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    SL, you’ll know it when it happens, take it from one old enough to know…

  21. george
    Posted October 11, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Pagansim, druidic and satanic beliefs are all religions wether we agree with them or not and should be given the same rights as Islamism, Judaism and all the others. it is not for politicians to decide waht is a religion and what is not.

  22. Posted October 11, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: There must be an ideal form of s**t because I know some perfect a***holes.

  23. Posted October 12, 2010 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    DEM is responsible for the re-photoshopped graphic.

    Smug Getafix is smug.

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