The Druid Network (TDN) is ending 2016 on a high note after being accepted as a full member by The Inter Faith Network for the UK (IFN). Established in 2003 by prominent Druid Emma Restall Orr, TDN has gone from being a primarily web-based interface to establishing the Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD) project, which aims to restore dignity to the human remains of those likely to be British Pagans, including those whose remains predate Christianity. TDN evolved further, becaming a charity and, most recently, the organization was granted full membership in the IFN, alongside the Pagan Federation.
TDN Media co-coordinator Joanna van der Hoeven says, “TDN now has an even greater legal standing, which others can follow, in having both legal and religious influence in the UK. There will also be greater communication between Druids and members of other religions, which is a wonderful thing to happen.”
The Druid Network was originally launched to bring together Druids from around the world, as well as others from similar Pagan/natural philosophy-based paths. The intention of the network was to allow people to exchange ideas and beliefs and, to this end, TDN has no hierarchical structure, other than what is needed for administration purposes.
TDN spans the continents of Europe, North America, South America and Oceania, and in 2010 was approved by the Charity Commission to apply for Religious Charity status. This was a major step toward Druidry becoming a recognised religion in the UK. Once TDN was approved by the Charity Commission, many members began discussing an application to the Inter Faith Network.
The Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom (IFN) is itself a charity that was set up in 1987, the first of its kind in the world, as a way of promoting understanding and knowledge of different traditions in the UK. The organization’s aims are to highlight common ground, as well as educating the public about the distinguishing features of each tradition. Sixty different faith-based organizations were included in its initial set-up and over the years; this has expanded. In the 2013 report, almost 200 organizations were members.
IFN has worked tirelessly for over 25 years to promote its message and to advocate for understanding and education between communities. In an increasingly globalised world, IFN has also worked hard to support interfaith dialogue and good interfaith relations. However, the IFN had traditionally only represented people of majority religions. Those of minority practices, such as Druidry and Paganism, had found it difficult to become members of the IFN due to the previous membership criteria.
Phil Ryder, a member of The Druid Network, who has been spearheading the current IFN campaign, explains, “In the light of acceptance by the Charities Commission of Druidry as a valid religious practice, the thoughts were that it would be hard for IFN to reject (our) application.”
The first application, however, was rejected. “The reason given being that they only accepted the ‘big faiths’ as laid down in their constitution,” says Ryder.
TDN was wary of causing bad feeling with the IFN, as they did not want to jeopardise the solid links that had already been established. Ryder explains, “We clearly stated we would not be involved in any legal challenge, but put the case to IFN that their current membership policy was not acceptable in our pluralistic society and advised against allowing this to go to court.”
However, TDN’s ability to make its case for membership was also important. Ryder goes on to say, “We offered open and honest dialogue to argue our case and that of other minority groups currently excluded. This was the start of a lengthy journey of over two years with exchange of emails, phone calls and a face to face meeting that also involved the Pagan Federation.”
The persistence paid off and the IFN changed its membership criteria, which allowed TDN and the Pagan Federation to apply for a two-year probationary membership. After the two years were up, the two organizations were granted full membership.
Ryder says, “That we have been accepted in membership is in itself a beacon of tolerance and demonstrates that sitting down and talking can achieve great things and is far preferable to conflict. We now have a voice within IFN and there are those within TDN that will make that voice heard.”
Being a full member of the IFN is fantastic news for UK Druidry, but is also helpful to Druids worldwide. “It is another level of acceptance, having given us another opportunity to remove some of the preconceptions and discrimination against the Druid tradition and those of other pagan faiths,” explains Ryder. “The IFN is influential in advising government and other NGOs, and so it also gives Druidry and Paganism a voice in decisions made by government on matters regarding faith groups.”
Becoming a part of IFN is beneficial on a more local level as well, as it enables Druids to interact with their local communities on matters of religion. As Ryder notes, “It has allowed Druids to become involved in interfaith both at a national and local level and is breaking down those barriers of discrimination. We have already seen a great change in how we are accepted within interfaith.”
For the future, TDN is aiming to use its newfound platform as a way of promoting Druidry to a wider audience. It is currently looking at “persuading the BBC to give Druidry and other minority faiths a voice on Thought for the Day.” This programme is a veritable British institution, a regular slot on Radio 4’s flagship Today, which typically provides a faith-based take on topical events.
As Ryder explains, “Our aim as always is to inform, inspire and facilitate Druidry as a religious practice. On that journey no doubt we will be given challenges that we can’t ignore.”
Joanna van der Hoeven adds: “I know just how hard all these people have worked over the years, and their dedication and commitment is overwhelming and inspiring. I hope that this inspires others as well, for I see that as one of the Druid’s main roles: questing and seeking the awen, inspiration, and inspiring others in turn.”