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Sunday, 4 August, 2002, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Pagan druid claims anger archbishop
Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales
Dr Rowan Williams is outspoken and controversial
Archbishop of Canterbury elect Dr Rowan Williams has hit back at newspaper reports he is dabbling in paganism.

He is being inducted as a 'druid' to the Gorsedd of the Bards during a historic ceremony at the National Eisteddfod in St Davids, Pembrokeshire, on Monday.

He will join the mythical circle of Wales' key cultural contributors in a ritual The Times suggested was linked to ancient paganism.

Gorsedd of Bards
'Druids' don white robes for eisteddfod events
But the Archbishop of Wales, who will shortly succeed Dr George Carey at Canterbury, has branded the claims "deeply offensive".

During his welcoming to the group, he will don a long white cloak while druids recite a prayer, trumpets sound and a 6ft 6ins sword is unsheathed.

But a leading Church of England conservative evangelist expressed concern in The Times.

"Christian leaders should concentrate on the celebration and promotion of the Christian faith in all its wonder and power rather than dabbling in other things," said Rev David Banting, chair of the Reform group.

The Gorsedd is a creative invention which first gathered at Primrose Hill, London, in 1792, and made its first eisteddfod appearance at Carmarthen in 1819, standing around a circle of stones.

Today, the circle numbers poets, writers, musicians, artists, sportsmen and women, and others who have made a distinguished contribution to Wales.

We are not like the English druids. The Stonehenge druids are a pot-smoking crowd

Dr Robyn Lewis, Gorsedd Archdruid
Former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, cricketer Robert Croft, opera singer Bryn Terfel and the Queen are all members of the group. Usually, members must be Welsh speakers.

Dr Williams said: "The suggestion, perpetrated recently by some elements of the British daily press, that the Gorsedd is even remotely associated with paganism is deeply offensive...

"... also to those people of goodwill in Wales who appreciate the Gorsedd and eisteddfod for the colour and culture which they bring to Wales' national life.

"When approached by the Gorsedd and invited to receive the honour of being admitted to the Gorsedd, I was delighted to accept.

"The National Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd are an important and integral part of Wales' national life and admission to the Gorsedd is one of the greatest honours which Wales can bestow on her citizens."

National Eisteddfod - flower girl
Traditional folk customs are displayed at eisteddfodau
The Wales On Sunday newspaper also accused London media of "ignorance" and "absurdity" over the issue.

This year's Archdruid, retired lawyer and judge Dr Robyn Lewis, who will ordain Dr Williams, said: "We are not like the English druids.

"The Stonehenge druids are a pot-smoking crowd. Ours is a very respectable society.

"The ceremony is not pagan. It is quite innocent. It is a society for the furtherance of the arts in Wales, nothing more."

Dr Williams' admittance to the Gorsedd will be one of his final official duties as Archbishop of Wales, a post he has occupied for three years to great acclaim.

He will adopt a unique bardic name in the complex ceremony, as the National Eisteddfod gets into full swing.

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