We’ve been so thrilled with the overwhelmingly positive reception to the launch of Agnostic Scotland. Thank you to everyone who has been in touch with us since the launch to express an interest in our plans, our community vision and in working with us. We look forward to being in touch with you all as we develop our plans during 2020.
For those who were unable to join us at the Launch Ceremony in November and who wished to hear more about the event, here’s how the evening bloomed…
Linda’s Opening Speech:
Friends, welcome. We have come together this evening to celebrate the launch of an organisation that is very close to our hearts. For the three founding members of Agnostic Scotland, it has been a labour of love to get us to this point, and it will continue to be so as we grow and develop over the coming weeks, months and years.
My name is Linda Keys, and I am so proud to be a founding member and the Chair of Agnostic Scotland. I am passionate about what we are bringing to Scotland by setting up this non-profit organisation.
This evening we are going to have a short ceremony where you will hear from the three of us who are Agnostic Scotland’s founding members. We will – of course – include a ritual element and we shall close with a performance of a song.
I was working as an Independent Celebrant when Onie Tibbitt first reached out to me about collaborating. At the time, I didn’t anticipate how big this would be. Even when we, with the wonderful Andrea Taylor, had our inaugural meeting in a noisy cafe in the West End, I didn’t anticipate how much space it would take up in my head or my heart. I didn’t appreciate what an impactful decision it would be to work together.
That understanding would dawn on me quite quickly though. It has to be said that Onie is an absolute powerhouse of a woman, and Andrea and I would both like to express our gratitude to Onie for being the one to bring us together and really being the engine that got us moving and off the ground so quickly.
Now that we are established, we operate as a true team and it is wonderful to have such inspiring colleagues. As a team, we are thorough, principled, committed and passionate. Our meetings are vibrant and purposeful. We work through decisions collaboratively and respectfully, with love and appreciation for what one another bring to the table. (Happily, the “table” is usually laden with delicious and nourishing food, because we know what matters when humans connect!)
Our motivation to create Agnostic Scotland was rooted in a desire to broaden the spectrum of ceremonies available to the people of Scotland; we knew of no belief body that was able to offer a ceremony that responded to and reflected a full range of ideologies, values and wishes. After all, in 2019 many couples and families have complex, nuanced, and often fluid belief systems, which – regardless of romantic or familial ties – may differ from one another. We also felt it was important that these couples who were asking us to perform their weddings received the legal recognition for the ceremony they wanted. Which is not something that as Independent Celebrants we could offer. So we were delighted when in June of this year, we were recognised by the National Records of Scotland as a belief body and as such are now able to apply for temporary legal licences for each of the weddings we conduct. A significant milestone for the families we work with.
So, by June, we had well and truly achieved our aim of setting up a belief body that created this distinct space for all couples and families to have person-centred ceremonies, and we had even been granted our first legal licence. But hang on… we were still running out of time during our regular and productive meetings, we were still sending one another emails at 6 in the morning or 11.30 at night. Hadn’t we achieved what we had set out to do? Well, it turns out, no.
Because when three values-led practitioners get together, there will always be the ambition to expand the offerings and develop new initiatives. And so we turned our attention to our Community Connection Gatherings, bringing people together to explore issues of interest, to be in nature together, to be inspired by the cultural offerings of Scotland, and to cultivate collective and individual wellbeing. We believe in human connection as the cornerstone to a harmonious and tolerant society. And we set up our Community Fund, which will offer donation-based wellbeing workshops and ceremonies to people who would otherwise struggle to pay for them. We believe that everyone has the right to live well and to ceremonially mark the significant milestones in their lives.
We believe in equality of opportunity. And when we looked around the table at one of our meetings and it dawned on us that what we saw were three white, non-disabled, cis, middle-class women, we realised that we could perhaps become more diverse as an organisation! And so we are building a steering group of people, recruited based on merit, knowledge, skills and values but also with an eye on broadening the diversity of Agnostic Scotland as we go forward. We are so happy to have some of your here this evening.
We look ahead to creating opportunities for more celebrants around Scotland to work with us as we broaden the geographical reach of Agnostic Scotland, thus ensuring that the bespoke, person-centred ceremonies we are so proud to provide are available throughout the country. And further down the line, we will offer training programmes for new celebrants with a clear aspiration to increase the quality of – and diversify – celebrancy in Scotland.
And then – who knows what next? Because, in front of these witnesses here tonight, I promise that we will always strive for Agnostic Scotland to bring positive change to our communities. We look forward to collaborating with you along the way. I’d like to now hand over to Onie…
Onie’s reading about Agnosticism:
Hello, Everyone. I am Onie and I’m really delighted to be standing here with you all and with my two wonderful colleagues, Linda and Andrea, to launch Agnostic Scotland. Thank you for joining us.
It’s been a fascinating process launching a belief body around Agnosticism. When we sent out emails inviting endorsements to fellow agnostics, or people who we thought might have a shared interest in our goals, we received many wonderful responses. We also received a lot of questions. A key one being:
‘If one’s beliefs are that one doesn’t know the answer, is that still a belief. Or, to use Richard Holloway’s phrase, ‘more a commitment to complicated doubt.’
Well, I’ve been an Independent Celebrant since 2013 and I’ve had the great pleasure of working with many families and couples who, when planning their shared ceremonies, felt they didn’t quite fit with the existing offerings among belief bodies in Scotland. The truth is that most of the families and couples I’ve worked with with do have a complex myriad of beliefs – or doubts – either individually, or as a couple and a family. It may not be that they are seeking an agnostic ceremony, as such, but more a ceremony that is open-minded, respectful and collaborative. One that will enable them to hold the space in a shared way that entirely and mutually reflects their own unique blend of beliefs, values and wishes.
To use one of my favourite quotes of Henri Thoreau:
“The universe is wider than our views of it’
At Agnostic Scotland, we feel that by acknowledging and admitting that we don’t know everything, and we are never likely to know everything, we are able to be more accepting, more understanding and more respectful towards the beautifully complex, often shared, and sometimes contradictory beliefs of individuals and families. We are able to create entirely unique ceremonies that really matter to the families involved.
Talking of matter, I can’t resist slipping in a beautiful extract from a wonderful book I read recently, Underland, by Robert MacFarlane:
At one point in his journey to understand the human connection with the vast array of tunnels, chambers and caverns beneath our feet, Robert MacFarlane talks about meeting a young dark matter physicist.
Dr. Christopher Toph is working at a depth of 3000ft in a laboratory off a salt mine tunnel network that extends for 600 miles beneath the moorland and dales of North Yorkshire and under the North Sea. The scientist is searching for evidence of the shadowy presence at the heart of the universe. Dark matter.
In order to do this he has set up complicated experiments to capture the very infrequent and hard to see interactions between the tiniest particles currently researched by humans – neutrinos. These particles are so miniscule they pass through our world like wind through a net curtain. Dr. Toth hopes that by capturing information on these interactions he may be able to infer something about the properties of the ever elusive dark matter.
At one point, Robert MacFarlane asks Dr. Toth if the search for dark matter is an act of faith, and he replies,
“I grew up as a very serious Christian. Then I lost my faith almost entirely when I found physics. Now that faith has returned, but in a much changed form. It’s true that we dark matter researchers have less proof than other scientists in terms of what we seek to discover and what we believe we know. As to God? Well, if there were a divinity then it would be utterly separate from both scientific enquiry and human longing. No divinity I would wish to believe in would declare itself by means of what we would recognise as evidence.”
“But does it change the way you feel about the world?” Robert MacFarlane asks him. “Knowing that 100 trillion neutrinos pass through our bodies every second, perforating our brains and hearts?”
“When I am out for a walk with my wife,” Dr. Toph replies, “along the cliff tops, on a sunny day, I know our bodies are wide-meshed nets, and the cliffs we are walking on are nets too, and sometimes it seems, yes, as miraculous as if in our everyday world we suddenly found ourselves walking on water, or air. And I wonder what it must be like, sometimes, not to know that. But mostly, and in several ways I’m amazed that I’m able to hold the hand of the person I love.”
At Agnostic Scotland, we believe that we are not likely to ever have the answers. We are comfortable with our complicated doubt and we are really happy to be able to offer ceremonies that are beautiful, person-centred and meaningful to families who feel the same.
Thank you. I’d like to now hand over to Andrea who is going to share with you one of the many wonderful rituals in our human history about celebrating love and togetherness.
Andrea’s speech and the Clootie Tree Ritual:
My name is Andrea Taylor and I, just like Onie and Linda, am thrilled to be a part of this new organisation and also very proud of what we have achieved so far, specifically the seeds we have planted in regards to our Community Connection Gatherings and Community Fund. Our commitment to nurturing human connection, inspiring collaboration and consistently investing in the community is already thoroughly rooted.
We are honoured that you have all come together this evening to spend some of your time with us, to find out more about Agnostic Scotland and to meet and connect with others. That step, that offering in itself, sends us a collective message of support and we thank you all so much for that.
Of course, as Celebrants, we felt it was very important to celebrate and mark this milestone through ceremony and ritual. To take a moment to recognise the potency of change and transition.
One of our intentions in holding this launch party, a ritual in itself, is to create a demarcation, a line, between the past and the future, the old and the new and to cultivate a true course for Agnostic Scotland.
Also, like many ceremonies, many rituals, this event is about holding a space to bring people together, to welcome you all, to create opportunity for everyone here to tap into commonalities which have the potential to unite and fortify, ourselves, our own communities and the wider community across Scotland.
Rituals can also offer a moment of reflection and time to consider someone or something that is meaningful to you and a time to tend your own wellbeing or send some positive thoughts to someone you love.
Therefore we would like to offer an opportunity for all of you to take part in a ritual this evening.
The chosen ritual is based on the long standing, rich tradition of fastening fabric and ribbons to trees that is widespread across the world. I have recently heard of this described as Tree Dressing. So this is what we have decided to call our version of this practice.
You may have heard about the ancient Scottish Clootie Tree, cloot is a Scots word for cloth, and also of the global practice of Prayer Trees or Wishing Trees.
Trees are wonderfully symbolic in their own right, representing long life and health, stability, shelter and security. Trees are a perfect example of how to live, grow, transition, change and even die with grace.
In Scotland, soaking a ‘cloot’ in spring water and tying onto a tree which was growing close to the revered well was associated with improving health and wellbeing of yourself and loved ones or often whole villages or clans.
In Canada there is reportedly an increase in Ribbon Trees appearing in remote areas placed by those who have historic ties to the land. In Turkey and Cyprus people tie rags to low branches on ancient fig trees for good luck. This evening, when our wee ceremony comes to an end, we invite you to do something similar to what many people have done before us over the years and are still doing across the globe.
For our ‘Agnostic Scotland Tree Dressing’ this evening we have brought, from my garden in Portobello, a tree that we felt was perfect for this ritual as apple trees are symbolic of nurturing energies. In Celtic mythology Apple trees are a symbol of good health, future happiness and of bringing a sense of wholeness, togetherness and connection with nature
- this tree has been grown from a pip that had sprouted in an apple my husband, Alex, was eating one day around 10 years ago.
- we also have some water collected from the North Sea (I swim in the sea regularly so collected the water that morning)
- strips of natural fabric
Choose a piece of fabric and soak your fragment of cloth, or cloot, in the seawater and then hold the fabric close, take a moment to ponder and reflect, think of a word, a dedication. Send love, gratitude, a merit or positive thoughts to someone that is known to you, to yourself, the wider community, the planet, to everyone here tonight …..
whatever inspires you
Hold your ‘cloot’ close and take a moment to let that word, that thought, that feeling register in your mind and in your heart. When you are ready tie your soaked fabric to the tree.
At the end of the evening Alex and I will take our tree back to our garden in Portobello and one day soon we will plant it with all your wishes, blessings, hopes and aspirations attached.
The cloots/cloth will stay in place until the elements wear them away, the fabric will disintegrate dispersing your thoughts, your words into the air, into the universe.
It is now my great pleasure to introduce Lesley Walker who will sing Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye. We have chosen this song because of its positivity around community, love and connection, disregarding labels and celebrating diversity, and humanity.
Lesley, we are so grateful to have your beautiful voice singing this wonderful song for us all tonight, and this will close the ceremony. Thank you all!
*Sadly we don’t have a photo of Lesley singing an exquisite and heartfelt rendition of Freedom Come All Ye. She was absolutely incredible and made four people weep with her beautiful performance. It was a beautiful way to wrap up our Launch Ceremony – after all, a ceremony isn’t a ceremony without both laughter and tears. Thank you, Lesley!
Photos by Laura Kate McLean – thanks so much! And thanks also to all the incredible people who volunteered their time and help on the launch night. We are so grateful! ❤️🌿