On 21 September the Charity Commission for England and Wales made a landmark ruling in relation to the long-standing application by the Druid Network to become a registered charity and thus to benefit from the advantages of charity law.
After a delay of five years (according to the Network’s website) the Commission’s 21-page judgment finally accepted that ‘The Druid Network is established for exclusively charitable purposes for the advancement of religion for the public benefit’.
The Commission took into account academic evidence about the nature of Druidry as a religion. Its decision has led to a flood of media headlines such as ‘After thousands of years, Druids are recognised as religious group’.
The Druids are thus the first Pagan body to win recognition under the Charities Act 2006. But how many of them are there? As ever with British religious statistics, there is no hard and fast answer.
In the 2001 census 1,657 individuals wrote in their religion as Druidry, fairly well scattered across England and Wales. However, this will have been an underestimate since some may have recorded themselves under the umbrella term of Pagans (of whom there were 30,500), while others may have been among the 42,000 who simply ticked the other religion box without specifying which religion they followed.
A BBC Inside Out investigation on 23 June 2003 ventured a figure of ‘around 10,000 practising Druids in Britain’. This number is still widely quoted in Druid circles. A report in the Daily Mail for 22 June 2007 suggested there were ‘more than 9,000 British Druids’. But neither source cited the basis for their statistics.
The Druid Network itself currently only has about 350 paid-up members, although it calculates that it has had 1,300 members past and present in its short history (it was established in late 2002). Religious Trends, 7 (p. 10.6) claimed it had 450 members and 28 groups in 2007. The Network emphasized to the Charity Commission that it is not really a member-focused organization, rather delivering information to a wider public.
The most recent academic monographs on the history of British Druidry are by Ronald Hutton: The Druids (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007) and Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). More background may also be found in the Charity Commission’s adjudication, which is at: