It has taken more than 11,000 years but finally the Druids, who lead the seasonal celebrations at Avebury and Stonehenge, can say they belong to an officially recognised religion.
No one is more delighted at this recognition than Druid priest Terry Dobney, who lives at West Kennett, and styles himself as the Archdruid of Avebury and Keeper of the Stones.
Every Midsummer’s Day Mr Dobney, 62, can be seen wearing his ceremonial robe, carrying his staff and with a pheasant feather in his flat cap leading the Summer Solstice celebrations in the stone circle at Avebury.
This week the Charity Commissioners revealed they were granting the Druid Network, the umbrella organisation for Druid groups across the UK, charitable status for the first time.
That decision establishes Druidry as a recognised religion under UK charity law for the first time giving it the same status as Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
The ruling recognised that the Druid Network served “to advance religion for the public benefit” although in practice, said Phil Ryder, chairman of the Druid Network trustees, it means very little financial benefit for the Druids but established an important principle giving them official recognition.
Mr Ryder said: “It has been a long and frustrating process, exacerbated by the fact that the Charity Commissioners had no understanding of our beliefs and practices and examined us on every aspect of them.”
As well as regulating secular charities the Charity Commissioners decide what qualifies as a legitimate and genuine faith.
Mr Dobney, a practising Druid for more than 40 years, said: “It is high time that the Druids were recognised not only as a religion but as being one of the oldest religions in the world.
“Druidism dates back to more than 11,500 years ago and pre-dates Judaism.
“The early Druids were the priestly cast who ran societies and provided the leaders.”
To become a recognised Druid, he said, entrants had to serve an apprenticeship for seven years under a senior Druid and could not call themselves a Druid until completing 21 years of training.
As well as leading the summer solstice and other seasonal celebrations at Avebury, Mr Dobney also conducts Druid handfastings (marriages) and other religious ceremonies throughout the year.
Merlin @ Stonehenge
The Stonehenge Stone Circle Website