CNN Blog Post — My Take: So who are the Druids, anyway?

Editor’s Note: Philip Carr-Gomm is a writer whose books include What Do Druids Believe? and The Book of English Magic and Wild Wisdom Meditations.

By Philip Carr-Gomm, Special to CNN

The Druids have hit the headlines in the recent days because religious charity status has been granted in the UK to The Druid Network – a group set up to foster Druid values and projects.

This has caused excitement in a number of circles. Many Druids and pagans see this as a major triumph. Others are upset because they don’t think Druidry is a religion, they feel it is a philosophy or a way of life.

And it’s worked at least one journalist into a frazzle. In The Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips revealed her disrespect and ignorance for many cultures and groups of people by writing such nonsense as “without the Judeo-Christian heritage there would be no morality and no true human rights,” in a column about Druids.

While one journalist is flustered, most are simply bemused because – they don’t really know much about the Druids.

I’ve  written books about Druidry and help to lead the world’s largest Druid group (The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids) so allow me to give a whistle-stop tour:

About three hundred years ago, a revival of interest in the pre-Christian religion of the Druids occurred in Britain, and this gave rise to three distinct movements.

One emerged out of the growing pride in the Welsh language, was entirely cultural, and involved the use of Druid ceremonial to dignify ‘Eisteddfodau’ – festivals of literature, music and performance.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has been inducted as such an honorary Druid, as was Queen Elizabeth in 1946.

Another movement evolved as a form of fraternal association, akin to Freemasonry. At its height this Druid movement had over a million members spread across the Commonwealth and included Winston Churchill.

So much for Druidry being ‘weird’ – it has been part of mainstream British society for centuries.

The third kind of Druid to emerge has been the ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ druid, as opposed to the cultural or fraternal.

From the late 1980s this much smaller group of people has grown exponentially. The established religions were failing to speak to a new generation who longed for an approach that reverenced the Earth and Nature, and Druidry became at the turn of the century a ‘green religion’ that now has perhaps 50,000 or so followers around the world.

One of the intriguing aspects of Druidry, which gets even Druids confused and excited when they talk about it, is that it doesn’t behave in the way most religions behave. For starters, it combines effectively with other spiritual approaches: it’s non-exclusivist and universalist. I’ve met Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids and Hindu Druids.

It has no saviour figure, is light on dogma, and strong on ethical behaviour. Most religions have a magical seam running through them (if the eucharist isn’t magical I don’t what is).

But the established religions separated from both science and magic a long time ago, and relegate an interest in magic to the forbidden realm of ‘the occult’.  Druidry, by contras,t is an openly magical path – a spirituality that sees life as essentially magical and each of us as co-creators in this magic.

As such Druidry is not the recent invention of Romantics, New Agers, or Hippies, but stands in a long and historically linked line of magical schools that stretch back in time via the Victorian magicians of the Golden Dawn , the Cunning Folk of popular magic, the alchemists and Anglo-Saxon wizards to – yes – even the ancient Druids.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Philip Carr-Gomm.

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