The Circus at the Edge of the Forest

Last week the UK’s Charity Commission granted the Druid Network ‘religious charity’ status and since then Druidry has been, once more, in the public eye. Most of the reporting has been extremely positive (apart from one crazy and bigotted attack in the Daily Mail – but, then, I’m not really surprised by that). But the overriding angle of the reporting is that this means that Druidry is now an ‘official’ religion. I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. I think what it actually means is that the Charity Commission has accepted the Druid Network’s definition of what constitutes Druidry ‘as a religion’ for the members of the Druid Network. If another Druid group approached the Commission requesting Charitable status, and their definition of Druidry matched the TDN’s then it will make their job much easier. If, however, it didn’t they would still need to go trough the same process as the TDN to enable their definition, and organisation to become registered. A subtle, but important, difference.

The way the media have reported this event has caused a little turbulence within some Druid groups who cannot fit their practice within the Druidry defined by the Druid Network. To a lot of Druids their practice isn’t a religious one, but more a spiritual way of life, and the definition of the polytheistic Druidry presented just doesn’t sit well. No worries. This definition has not defined ‘Druidry’, it has defined what Druidry is for one group. No one has to adapt to fit this definition, it’s really business as usual. If your Druidry is animistic, atheistic, monotheistic, you won’t find a For Sale sign at your Sacred Grove the next time you go there, all is well. Take deep breath and relax.

Druidry has always been a religion to some, whilst others shy away from that word. Its lack of dogma some find infuriating, whilst for others it is the main attraction of a Nature based spirituality that doesn’t so much offer a Path, but more an endless forest to explore. For me, and many others, that forest is still there, unchanged by the crazy circus that has pitched up in a field close by. It’ll still be the same after it’s moved on, but in the mean time it’s good to see so many new people being made aware of our Old Ways. As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about!’

18 responses to “The Circus at the Edge of the Forest”

  1. Religion is something that we just need to recognise for ourselves.

    I think that other Pagan paths and any other unrecognised religion, would be better tasked to try and remove the inequality of religious recognition rather than striving to achieve this goal for itself.

    I see no reason why ANY charity needs to be a charity on religious grounds, they should be charities simply because they are doing good.

    I would even go further and wish to see all recognition of individual religions removed from the state.

    I would not ask my god/goddess/divinity/religion/faith to recognise the state (Monarchy, government of the day etc)or the lines drawn it has drawn upon the land.

    So why should I ask the state to recognise my god/goddess/divinity/religion/faith.

    I have had exchanges with the charity commission asking them to explain to me what the public benefit of certain religious charities are. They have not been able to provide a clear reply, when charging them with failing to perform their duty by failing to ensure that the principle of public benefit was applied they just clammed up. It seems that only parliament oversees the overseers.

  2. G’day Damh, Thanks for so affably clarifying some potential histrionics & broadening the debate along the way,
    Yer a farkn diplomat! Onya mate! : D

  3. “This definition has not defined ‘Druidry’, it has defined what Druidry is for one group.”

    This is, actually, still not quite precisely accurate – but then, it’s a very convoluted legal situation that really takes a lot of clarifying. It’s important to keep in mind that it took the Charity Commission four years of debate and discussion with TDN before coming to an understanding of what they were defining and to whom it applied, and during this time the process of discussion also helped TDN trustees to further clarify and refine their own ideas as well.

    So. Technically, the TDN definition of Druidry as outlined in the Forward to their Constitution is meant to be as inclusive and broad a definition of religious Druidry as possible. It is not meant to apply only to their own small group; in fact, the CC required evidence that Druidry was a “cogent, coherent, serious and important” religious tradition beyond merely the TDN’s membership. This is why TDN consulted with as many other Druidic organizations as possible during the drafting of the Forward, including OBOD and Philip Carr-Gomm. So it’s not exactly accurate to say that the definition is only meant to apply to TDN. It is meant to be a broad, inclusive but coherent definition of religious Druidry.

    This does not mean that all Druids must be religious, only that Druids can be religious and be recognized as such under English Charity Law (which has a narrower, somewhat quirky definition of ‘religion’ for the purposes of determining public benefit). The definition of “religion” itself under English Charity Law has in fact been hugely expanded as a result of TDN’s efforts, and one reason for this is that the definition provided by TDN of “religious Druidry” is incredibly broad and diverse. In fact, it does not exclude monotheistic, animistic, or even atheistic-but-spiritual Druids from being counted as “religious” under the TDN definition. Phil Ryder, Chair of Trustees, is himself an animist, not a “hard” or literal polytheist.

    So while it’s true that this decision certainly doesn’t force anyone to subscribe to a particular definition of Druidry – this would be impossible under UK religious freedom laws, anyway – it’s also important not to downplay the importance and impact the decision has had on the Druid community and the greater non-Abrahamic religious community more generally.

    More information about the nuances of the decision are available in an article at the Wild Hunt, and an interview with Phil Ryder on the matter is available here.

  4. That sums it up Damh!

    TDN has not defined druidry for all – just for those who subscribe to the foreword of the constitution of TDN which was founded as a pagan druid organisation.

  5. Hi Dave. Good words, thank you. There is huge ‘wiggle room’ in the definition of Druidry that the Charities Commission accepted from TDN. But even if that isn’t enough for some, TDN has in no way defined /your/ Druidry, only the Druidry enacted as described in the Forward to our Constitution.

    There’s a really good interview with Phil Ryder, Chair of TDN, at Meadowsweet and Myrrh I would recommend folk had a nose at. It sets out a lot of what and why background…

  6. Thanks for making things a bit clearer Dave. I dont feel that this ‘recognition’ will make a jot of difference to most of us my forest will still be mine to wander as I please.
    No For Sale signs here lol.

  7. Greetings to you Damh the Bard,

    I read your article with interest and I have to say that I
    agree with you in so many ways. I love the way you mention the forest, because the Forest will still be there and if that goes well the seeds lay dormant in the earth awaiting rebirth so it is always there. I love the lack of dogma, in the OBOD
    and the concentration with the Gods that are there, the ancestors, the Sidhe and nature. The continuity of all that is at all times, the simplicity.

    So as you said that if another Druidic group graced the horizon they would be tested upon their foundations too.

    That Druidry is now recognised as, a religion, a faith a way of life rather than not is purposeful, but it doesn’t have to go or be mainstream. We are nature’s children and I would rather remain so

  8. Way to go, Druid Network (I just joined myself, high time now!) and very good to read about the details here, too. The circus, I believe, will in the end do all of us good who would like more and official respect for their spiritual and/or religious practice, whatever they may be. The feeling here in Germany among OBODies is definitely one of joy and relief – FINALLY!

    Guess I should post this somewhere else, such as in the DHP forum, but what is the big to do with religion or not religion, anyway? I mean, religion is not the same as church organization. Maybe we should replace it with the wonderful out-of-date word of “faith” – or “belief”?

    Fall blessings, Serpentia

  9. I’ve just read that Mail article and I know I shouldn’t have expected any better, but I cannot imagine just how narrow/closed minded someone would have to be to either write rubbish like that or agree with/believe it.

  10. Funny how the different groups got their feathers ruffled in different ways, isn’t it?

    Be interested to see how this evolves moving forward…

    Damh – OFFICIAL Bard 😉

  11. It’s been interesting to see the reaction of some of the Druid community to this work by TDN. But for the Melanie Phillips article in the Mail I wonder how much of a “New Druid War” people were willing to have over this. I have seen people really lining up to attack or to defend the supposed outcomes of the decision by the Charities Commision. I trust that for these people a common enemy (in the form of Melanie Phillips) has provided an alternative.

    Definitions have a role in particular circumstances at particular time. No one has tried to lay claim to the definition of “Druidry” at all, some people have worked hard to fulfil a particular task within a particular context. Instead of “I don’t agree / disagree!! How dare you have done that / questioned that!! ” The response should really have been “Well played, looks like you have put a lot of heart and soul and time into that. You’ve given me some stuff to think about which is good to!”

    We should be known as a community by our deeds, not by our words. At times there appear to be a lot more words than deeds.

  12. after hearing the announcement i was inspired and wrote this short piece of bardic doggerel ;
    ( best read in a West Midlands accent, for no other reason than the rhyming scheme)

    There’s a question
    Answer me quick
    What’s this about a druid power trip
    debates are raging
    Arguments fly
    About some sect of Druidry

    But here’s a thought
    Struck me as funny
    What if all they want to do
    Is save some money

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