LONDON (AFP) – Britain has recognised druidry as an official religion for the first time, thousands of years after the Celtic pagan faith emerged in Europe, the country's charity commission said Saturday.
The Druid Network, an organisation representing the religion in Britain, was granted charitable status in a decision that not only gives it tax breaks but also lets the religion take its place alongside more mainstream beliefs.
"This has been a long hard struggle, taking over five years to complete," the Druid Network said in a statement after its application to be registered as a charity had been accepted by the Charity Commission.
In its ruling on the group's application, the commission said it accepted that druidry was an "ancient pagan religion" in its own right involving the worship of nature, particularly the sun and the earth.
Druid rituals involve "commonality of practice" across the faith including solar and fire festivals, ceremonies at various phases of the moon, seasonal festivals and rites of passage in life.
There had also been some official recognition already, it added, including a provision by Britain's Prison Service for the practice of druidry and the attendance of a pagan chaplain at services.
"The board members concluded that The Druid Network is established for exclusively charitable purposes for the advancement of religion for the public benefit," the Charity Commission said.
Druidry emerged in ancient Ireland and Britain and spread further afield during the Iron Age, especially into France, but became largely supplanted as Christianity took hold across Europe.
It has gained recent popularity because of its pantheistic nature and concern with ecology.