Not that being a dippy, trippy, tree-hugging hippy is altogether a bad thing, but when described as such it does lower folks’ expectations and leads to one being taken less seriously than, say, your local Christian, Buddhist or Muslim, etc. From time to time, being kind of ‘out there’ as to my spiritual persuasion, I’ve been quizzed, ridiculed, insulted, scorned and (heh) cursed – all of which is fine and dandy within the normal tolerances of free speech. I’ve also been involved in serious discussions at Interfaith seminars, write the occasional Thought for the Day article for the local news, and have co-established a faith@work group at my workplace. It’s a balance, I guess, and at this time of equinox balance is important. But today we had some good news, and significantly important news.
After several years – well, many years – The Druid Network, for which I am a Trustee, has gained Charitable Recognition*. TDN is a charity furthering religion, and Druidry is official in English law. The definition of Druidry that was accepted by the Charities Commission was circulated for comment to all the major Druid organisations around the world until consensus was achieved for a definition tight enough not to be mistaken for another path, but loose enough to give the wriggle room required of our diverse collective. It’s basically what TDN use in the Forward to our Constitution. Go read. [* is not yet formally registered as a Charity, but has fulfilled the requirements for such and now awaits the formal notice.]
What does this mean? I can imagine there are many, many Druids out there for whom this is a ‘so what’ moment. Well on a mundane front there are several financial aspects, which are very well laid out in this legal campany’s FAQ. Practically, this means that the relatively small bank balance we hold can be more effectively utilised for the furtherance of Druid work, it means that any UK resident giving to TDN can tick the ‘gift aid’ box and pass the tax to the organisation too. Also, many organisations won’t deal with non-charities in this field, and now some doors will open that were previously closed. Lots of other advantages don’t really apply to TDN, since we aren’t much for big offices and expense account lunches… There are some perceived disadvantages too, including requirements for record keeping and the good character of the trustees, but since we started this journey some years ago we’ve been fulfilling these requirements, so that’s not a problem. And despite the odd rumour to the contrary, I get paid nothing at all for either my TDN work or my Parish Council work, never have and never will. Frankly, that’s not why I’ve been doing it!
In achieving this, we have changed the way religion is defined in charity law. No other Druid organisation is going to have to fight their way through the system to have their path recognised as we have. Of course, they will still have to satisfy the Charity Commission in many other ways if they wish for charitable status, such as proving public benefit and being non-profit etc… But it’s a big deal.
I said that for many Druids (and add many Pagans here) this would be a ‘so what’ moment. It may also be a WTF moment, and cause actual distress to those for whom any link with ‘da man’, officialdom and structure are anathema (interesting word in this context…). However, a little thought will show that nearly every Pagan – and every Pagan reading these words – lives in mainstream society – however much on the periphery. In order for them to enjoy the same rights as other spiritual folk, to have the freedom to worship, to speak out, to not be discriminated against… they need to interface with the majority. That’s not selling out. That’s not accepting dogma. Admittedly, most of the systems out there are based on a monotheist assumption, but that is why this decision is so important – we’ve persuaded the system to consider a non-monotheist stance without immediately dismissing it as rot! We haven’t and we don’t have to appear to be what we are not, to be heard..
Finally, this comes at a good time for TDN, as our Conference is being held, in Lickey near Redditch, West Midlands, on Saturday 20th November. We’ve got a full day planned, filled with interesting speakers, live music and good vegetarian food. Click here to go to the Conference page, and if you like what you see, see you there. I’ll be the muppet with the microphone…