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"LONDON – Druids have been worshipping the sun and earth for thousands of years in Europe, but now they can say they're practicing an officially recognized religion.

The ancient pagan tradition best known for gatherings at Stonehenge every summer solstice has been formally classed as a religion under charity law for the first time in Britain, the national charity regulator said Saturday. That means Druids can receive exemptions from taxes on donations and now have the same status as such mainstream religions as the Church of England.

The move gives an old practice new validity, said Phil Ryder, the chairman of the 350-member Druid Network.

"It will go a long way to make Druidry a lot more accessible," he said.

Druids have practiced for thousands of years in Britain and in Celtic societies elsewhere in Europe. They worship natural forces such as thunder and the sun, and spirits they believe arise from places such as mountains and rivers. They do not worship a single god or creator, but seek to cultivate a sacred relationship with the natural world.

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Although many see them as robed, mysterious people who gather every summer solstice at Stonehenge — which predates the Druids — believers say modern Druidry is chiefly concerned with helping practitioners connect with nature and themselves through rituals, dancing and singing at stone circles and other sites throughout the country believed to be "sacred."

Ancient Druids were known to be religious leaders, judges and sages among the Celts during pre-Christian times, although little evidence about their lives survived. There are now various Druid orders and about 10,000 practitioners in Britain — and believers said the numbers are growing because more people are becoming aware of the importance to preserve the environment.

The Druid Network fought for nearly five years to be recognized under the semi-governmental Charity Commission, which requires proof of cohesive and serious belief in a supreme entity and a moral framework.

After initially rejecting the Druid Network's application, the Charity Commission decided this week that Druidry fit the bill.

"There is sufficient belief in a supreme being or entity to constitute a religion for the purposes of charity law," the commission said.

Adrian Rooke, a Druid who works as a counselor, said Druidry appeals to people who are turning away from monotheistic religions but still long for an aspect of spirituality in their lives.

"It uplifts the spirit," he said. "The world is running out of resources, and in that context it's more important to people now to formulate a relationship with nature."


By SYLVIA HUI, Associated Press Writer Sylvia Hui, Associated Press Writer   – Sat Oct 2, 3:52 pm ET

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/relig…
Although since Christian times Druids have been identified as wizards and soothsayers, in pre-Christian Celtic society they formed an intellectual class comprising philosophers, judges, educators, historians, doctors, seers, astronomers, and astrologers. The earliest surviving Classical references to Druids date to the 2nd century B.C.

The word "Druidae" is of Celtic origin. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius Secundus, 23/24-79 A.D.) believed it to be a cognate with the Greek work "drus," meaning "an oak." "Dru-wid" combines the word roots "oak" and "knowledge" ("wid" means "to know" or "to see" - as in the Sanskrit "vid"). The oak (together with the rowan and hazel) was an important sacred tree to the Druids. In the Celtic social system, Druid was a title given to learned men and women possessing "oak knowledge" (or "oak wisdom").

The Druids emerged from the ancient Celtic tribes, at a time when the people had to live close to nature to survive. By the light of the storyteller's fire, and with the play of the harp, the Druids dreamed magic for their people. In the deep woods they would gather, bringing together their mysticism and philosophy, their insight and learning. Their spirit emerged from the the tides of the sea, the light of the sun, the wind in the Oak, the cry of the deer. In this way, they created an institution that inspired, frightened, and uplifted their world.

Druids filled the roles of judge, doctor, diviner, mage, mystic, and clerical scholar - they were the religious intelligensia of their culture.

To become a Druid, students assembled in large groups for instruction and training, for a period of up to twenty years.

The mythologies describe Druids who were capable of many magical powers such as divination & prophesy, control of the weather, healing, levitation, and shapechanging themselves into the forms of animals.

Their education was so rigourous that at the end of it they were virtually walking encycopaedias. A good word for them would seem to be "priests", yet I am reluctant to use it for two reasons: The Romans never used it, and because Druids didn't minister to congregations as priests do.

Rather, they had a clientele, like a lawyer, a consultant, a mystic, or a shaman would have.

Caesar and his historians never referred to them as priests, but perhaps they could not recognise them as priests since the Roman priesthood, officiating over an essentially political religion, were primarily teachers and judges, with less emphasis on being seers or diviners, whereas the Druids appeared to have both legal and magical powers and responsabilities.

Some scholars have argued that Druids originally belonged to a pre-Celtic ('non-Aryan') population in Britain and Ireland (from where they spread to Gaul), noting that there is no trace of Druidism among Celts elsewhere - in Cisalpine Italy, Spain, or Galatia (modern Turkey). Others, however, believe that Druids were an indigenous Celtic intelligentsia to be found among all Celtic peoples, but were known by other names.

With the revival of interest in the Druids in later times, the question of what they looked like has been largely a matter of imagination. Early representations tended to show them dressed in vaguely classical garb. Aylett Sammes, in his Britannia Antiqua Illustrata (1676), shows a Druid barefoot dressed in a knee-length tunic and a hooded cloak. He holds a staff in one hand and in the other a book and a sprig of mistletoe. A bag or scrip hangs from his belt.

The main sources we have on what Druids did are the teachings and writings of Roman historians, such data as archeological remains can provide, and mythological literature recorded by monks in the eighth through twelfth century. Also, analogies can be drawn between the Celts and such Indo-European cultures that existed around the same time and had the same level of cultural achievement, such as the Hindu people.

Archaeology is an excellent resource for the study of celtic history. Scientists have uncovered the remains of votive offerings to the Gods in lake bottoms, bogs, and "votive pits" (a narrow hole dug deep in the ground in which votive offerings are buried), which tell us about Celtic religion. There are also the remains of celtic fortresses, habitations, temples, jewelry and tools. These remains speak to us not of events and people in Celtic history, but what life was like, what their technological capeability was, what food they ate, what crafts and trades they practiced, what products they made and traded (which in turn tells us about their economy), and where they travelled and how they got there. These facts about Celtic social life are an important element for understanding Druidism, because it is necessary to understand the whole culture in which Druidism was situated.

Nevertheless they were often impressed by the Druids' grasp of mathematical and astronomical skill. One Roman author, Diogenes, placed the Druids on a list of the ancient world's wisest philosophers; a list which included the Magi of Persia, the Chaldeans (the priesthood of the Babylonians) and the Gymnosophists (an Hindu sect which preceded the Yogis), all of whom were selected for their skill in mathematics, physics, logic, and philosophy.

[Taken from Brittania.com]

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