Grief on pause – paying tribute to a loved one

“There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.”

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As a member of a shielding family, I have been watching in awe over the past few months as my fellow funeral celebrants and funeral sector colleagues go to herculean efforts to support families through incredibly challenging times. 

Funerals have been stripped back to the bare minimum to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Attendance numbers have been restricted to immediate family only and shielding relatives have been advised not to attend. Physical distancing measures are in place with all attendees spaced 2 metres apart. Everyone attending must adhere to a stringent no contact policy with each other or with anything in the room, including the coffin. They may also be following the Government guidance to wear masks in enclosed spaces.

These measures are understandable in that they have clearly been an important part of the prevention of further illness and deaths from Covid-19. However, they have come at a huge emotional cost despite the valiant efforts of all involved to ease the process for families and create a loving and memorable tribute to the person who has died.

Families may feel they have been unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones. Friends have been unable to attend the funerals of the people they cared deeply about. Those who have been able to attend have been restricted in how they are able to express their grief and sympathy. Many have suffered from the lack of connection with others during this time. Too many mourners have had to face their loss and grief alone, without the much-needed support of their wider friends, family and community. 

Being given the freedom and flexibility to pay tribute to a loved one who has died is incredibly important and a crucial part of coming to terms with our loss. In these past months, too many families have been unable to spend time with their dying relatives and friends in their final days or weeks. Too many grieving individuals have been forced to retreat from the comfort and support of family and friends at a time when they need it most. It is heartbreaking to see so many struggle to cope with the necessary restrictions about how they must celebrate the life of the person they love – with no opportunity to rest a hand on the coffin of the person they loved, no chance to remember together with family and friends, no opportunity to have hugs from those closest to them. 

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter

In this time of physical distancing and isolation, it feels as if the world is on pause… like we are all taking a collective deep breath in and waiting until it is safe to exhale fully and deeply. Grief too has been suspended, interrupted. Countless people are facing the impossible task of moving forward in grief without access to the support, rituals and activities that would have helped them process the death of the person dear to them. It is essential that we find ways to ease this pain and support families in coming to terms with their loss.  

As Celebrants, my colleagues and I at Agnostic Scotland are hopeful that we can play our part. We are being asked by families who have been unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones to conduct Memorial Ceremonies for them, once physical distancing restrictions are relaxed and we can move safely through the Scottish Government Route Map Phases.

A Memorial Ceremony can take many forms. For some, a poignant, intimate ceremony with only very close family and friends present may feel right. For others, an epic celebration with a gathering of wider friends and family could sound perfect. Memorial Ceremonies can take place in beautiful outdoor locations, in the comfort of your home, in community centres or town halls, or in grand hotels. The content of a Memorial Ceremony is entirely your choice. Each ceremony is crafted to entirely reflect the person being celebrated – their stories, their personality and their beliefs, values and wishes. 

Importantly, a Memorial Ceremony gives families the chance to come together in grief. It is an opportunity to honour and fully celebrate the life of the person who has died, to share stories and make toasts, to send blessings and reflect. It is a chance for grieving families to begin to make peace with the passing of the person they cared deeply about. 

For every Memorial Ceremony we conduct this year we plant a tree in our Agnostic Scotland Grove in the Highlands in honour of the person being remembered. We also donate 10% of our fee to the UN Refugee Agency Covid-19 Appeal. For those unable to cover the cost of a Memorial Service we may be able to help through our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund.  

While memorials can’t take place due to restrictions there are ways that loved ones, families and friends can take a moment to remember those they have lost. St Pauls’s Cathedral has launched Remember Me, an online book of remembrance for people of all faiths, beliefs or none. Funeral Celebrant, Rosalie Kuyvenhoven and Sacred Stones support a Candlelight Vigil, Mondays at 8pm via Instagram. An online gathering organised by www.lifedeathwhatever.com has been postponed but will be rescheduled so click on link to find out more.

There are also many resources, advice and support available via organisations such as National Bereavement Alliance and the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care

with love

from all of us at Agnostic Scotland

Love in the time of Covid-19

In a time when almost every newspaper headline makes for stark reading, it is heartwarming to be hearing from couples planning their wedding ceremonies during 2020-2022.

Raini Rowell Photography

Admittedly, there have been some moments of dark humour though in our ceremony-planning conversations: 

“We could have themed face masks!”

“How about hats or fascinators with 2-metres long feathers?”

“Well obviously the Quaich can’t be passed around… the invite would have to read ‘Join us for a Covid-19 party’”

Jokes aside, it is worth spending a bit of time considering how we might need to adapt ceremony plans in the coming months. It is absolutely possible to get creative and look forward to a magical day despite the surreal times we are living through. 

Raini Rowell Photography

Guest numbers

Government guidelines will continue to detail the numbers of guests that will be allowed to attend ceremonies as the marriage licence suspension is lifted. It is likely that the numbers will vary during the different phases of Covid-19 restrictions being rolled out. Currently the Government advice for Phase 2, from 18th June 2020, is:

Members of three separate households, to a maximum number of 8 people, will be permitted to attend an outdoor wedding or civil partnership. This is to allow the parties (who may not be part of the same household prior to marriage) and the witnesses to attend. This limitation does not include the registrar/celebrant or any necessary interpreter.

We suspect that during Phase 3, if the current restrictions do move forward, for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies there is likely to be a cap on numbers with strict physical distancing and hygiene measures in place. As the virus hopefully becomes more controlled, and as we progress through the Government Phases for Covid-19 containment, we hope that more guests may be allowed at each gathering.

As Celebrants, we will have a responsibility to follow the Government legislation around numbers attending and as such, it is important to ensure that your plans reflect the Government guidelines and legislation (we have included links below). Planning for all scenarios will help manage the expectations and emotions for those involved (yours included!). Whilst you might be hoping to invite all your friends and family for a love-filled joyful gathering, it’s worth considering what you will do and how you would feel if you are limited to say 8, 25, or 50 guests. 

There is a different kind of beauty in an intimate wedding or elopement. So, whilst it might feel a huge shift from your original plans, it could reassure you to check out the photos and read the blogs of people who are involved in creating intimate weddings and elopements, or who have experienced one themselves. We have links to useful sites and articles at the end of this blogpost.

Given the evolving and hard-to-predict guidelines around numbers of guests being allowed at gatherings, considering all scenarios at the outset could help you feel more relaxed when looking ahead to your ceremony. 

Raini Rowell Photography

Physical distancing

It is a possibility that all guests will be expected to physical distance and stay 2-metres apart at all times. As such, we would encourage you to discuss this at the outset with the event manager at your chosen venue. This will help to ensure that you feel relaxed about how your important day will unfold and you won’t be disappointed if harsh restrictions on numbers and physical distancing are enforced. It’s always important to feel good about your Plan B.

Of course, if everyone is being asked to physical distance at gatherings then that will include your Celebrant. There may be some aspects of your ceremony that might need to be adjusted to account for this – such as rituals (see below).

Graeme Wilson Photography

Masks

We weren’t joking about themed face masks… At the moment, it is unclear what the Government guidelines will be regarding the wearing of face masks at gatherings but we suspect it might be recommended. Of course, by the time the marriage licence suspension is fully lifted there is the possibility that all wedding guests might be able to get tested for Covid-19 prior to attending, or that a test, track and trace programme will be fully underway and completely reliable. However, if the wearing of masks is recommended, it’s possible to get creative. It is also important to understand face mask safety – you can find the World Health Organisation Guidance here.

There are some beautiful material face masks being made by local businesses and crafters. You will find some links under this blog. Masks are likely to be a part of our world for the next year or so, and perhaps might seem less alien to us once we are all used to seeing each other wearing them. 

Songs and hymns

Sadly, we know from the devastating effect of church gatherings and choirs around the world that singing together is a sure way to optimise the spread of the virus. Even with the wearing of masks, this might be something to consider replacing in your ceremony. You could play music, read poetry or extracts from your favourite books instead. We are always happy to offer suggestions and help you find the perfect elements for your ceremony. 

Photo by Samantha Gades

Quaich Ceremony 

Traditionally, during a Quaich Ceremony, the newly married couple would each take a drink from the shared cup of love to symbolise their union and to toast their future together. The cup might then be passed around the gathering for all present to take a sip and share in the toast to the couple. It is clear that it will be unlikely that the passing of the Quaich among guests is recommended during the current pandemic. 

However, it is absolutely possible to enjoy this ritual without the sharing of the cup among family and friends. The toast can be limited to the couple and the words of the ritual adjusted accordingly. It might be that everyone present is invited to join in with the words of the toast, or to take a moment to wish the couple well by sending a thought, wish, blessing or prayer their way.

Handfasting

A Handfasting Ceremony is a gorgeous ritual and a wonderful Celtic tradition. As Celebrants, we are often asked to include a Handfasting in Wedding and Life-Partnership Ceremonies. Whilst it is usually the Celebrant that places the cords or ribbons on the hands of the couple, and the Celebrant who ties the knots as a symbolic act of sealing the vows of the couple, this may not be possible with physical distancing measures in place. 

If you are planning a Handfasting as part of your ceremony, it is possible to adapt the ceremony so that you can tie your own knot, or use the fabric wound around your hands as a symbol of betrothal or binding. Or you could consider who among your immediate family – people you are already mixing with – could step in for the Celebrant to place the cords and tie the knots. This is something that some couples already choose – they might have a relative they wish to ask to be the one who seals their vows – and it works well. We will guide you, of course, and the person fulfilling this role to ensure that you are all confident about how to perform this beautiful ritual. 

Ring Warming

Many couples choose this gorgeous ritual as part of their ceremony. The commitment bands are tied to a piece or ribbon or cord and, during the ceremony, are passed from guest to guest. The Celebrant will have invited each guest to take a moment when the rings reach them to offer a blessing, thought or prayer for the couple. That way, when the rings make their way to the front for the exchange of rings between the couple, they are imbued with all the good wishes and feelings of their family and friends. 

Photo by Positive Images

There’s no getting around that this is not likely to be possible during the pandemic given the limitations on contact and avoiding touching the same surfaces as others. However, there are other ways that this well-wishing by the couple’s family and friends can be included in the ceremony. For example, the Celebrant might invite all present to take a moment during the ceremony to send a thought, blessing, or prayer towards the couple just before the couple exchange rings. 

Signing of the Register

After the newly-married couple are declared legally married, it is a legal requirement that the Marriage Schedule be signed by the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses. Usually, the Celebrant would provide a black ink fountain pen for this purpose. This is important as the type of ink used is a Registry Office requirement.

Photo by We Are Elopers

Given the likely restrictions on sharing items, touching the same surfaces as others, it may be that every person signing the document has to use a separate pen. In this scenario, the individuals can either bring their own pens, or the Celebrant can provide the pens and clean them after each signing.   

Hugs

It is going to feel strange not being able to hug those around us at such a poignant and joyful time. We will all need to adapt to showing our love and appreciation in other ways. There are beautiful rituals that can do this – rituals that can show the couple how much everyone present cares for them, and that involve all the gathering in a meaningful and shared moment. 

There are many varied rituals that can be adapted to suit the personality and wishes of the couple involved. One such ritual might involve inviting everyone who attends to bring a ‘symbolic hug’ with them to put in the hug jar. These ‘symbolic hugs’ could be tokens such as shells, buttons, feathers. The couple then have the pleasure in the weeks following the ceremony of working out which hug belonged to which guest. 

The inclusion of visualisations or guided meditations can also be a powerful way of involving everyone in the gathering. Simply inviting all present to place their hand on their heart and consider the future of the couple then send a loving thought their way is incredibly powerful. 

The Oathing Stone ritual is another poignant way of including everyone at the ceremony. This works especially well for outdoor ceremonies. The guests are given a stone on arrival at the ceremony. They are invited to hold them whilst the vows are being made and recognise their relationship with the couple. Just before the wedding vows are made they are invited to send their warm wishes, thoughts and prayers for the couple as they hold the stone. Following the ceremony the couple invite their guests to throw the stones in nearby water such as a river or lake and send blessings. Blessings made near water have been thought to be more binding.

An alternative to this is for the stones to be placed in a container such as a glass vase or a bowl which the couple take home to remind them of the good wishes of their guests. Another is for the stones to be placed together in a cairn on the ground when the ceremony is outside.

As Celebrants, we can help you create a beautiful, unique and meaningful ceremony despite all that is going on in the world at this time. The most important thing is to remember that whilst your ceremony may have been postponed just now, your love for each other continues to grow stronger. 

Post-Ceremony Celebrations

We are being advised that until Phase 4 there will be significant physical distancing measures in place at all group gatherings. During Phases 2-3 it is therefore important to consider how to plan your post-ceremony celebrations. Your reception or evening meal may need to take place with 2m physical distancing requirements in place. This might mean more tables with less people on each table, for example.

Depending on the space in your chosen wedding venue, it may be possible to enjoy an evening dance with guests physically distancing during the dance. As such, it is hard to imagine how a traditional Scottish Ceilidh could go ahead during Phase 2-3. It is important to discuss the options available to you with your venue provider.

Our promise to you

These are uncertain times and the more security you can have in your plans the more relaxed you will feel in the lead up to your wedding. In the event that your chosen celebrant is physically unable to conduct your ceremony e.g. due to illness, enforced virus related self-isolation or quarantine, or for some other reason, then we will do our utmost to arrange for a fellow Agnostic Scotland celebrant to conduct your ceremony on their behalf.

We are looking forward to working with you to shape your ceremony into all that you wish it to be. All the ceremonies we conduct are entirely reflective of the individuals involved – their personalities, their stories, their beliefs, values and wishes. During this time of physical distancing and restrictions we are even more committed to putting our creativity to work to create a ceremony that will make your heart sing. 

Graeme Wilson Photography

Useful links

Government Guidelines

Edinburgh Council Latest Update 18th June 2020

National Records Scotland Office updates

Scottish Government Covid-19 Routemap

Elopements 

Raini Rowell Photographer – What does ‘elopement’ mean

Sean Bell Photographer – how to elope to Scotland

Sean Bell Photographer – where to elope to Scotland

The Elopement Society

Masks

Freja Wedding Dress Designer – beautiful face masks

La Robe a Caro

Small Weddings

www.smallshindigs.com

Celebrating PRIDE – Join us on board the ‘love bus’

Today marks the 25th Anniversary of Pride in Scotland. 25 years of supporting progressive change for the LGBTQI+ community.

As part of the Pride Edinburgh 2020 celebrations, we Celebrants at Agnostic Scotland had been planning to join forces with The Original Red Bus/Sam and Clunie Phipps on one of their wonderful vintage Routemasters. Together, we were looking forward to taking their ‘love bus’ around the city and celebrating with fellow Pride Festival goers. It would have been a beautiful day full of love, connection, pride and colour. 

Ben and Neil, married on The Red Bus, Edinburgh, March 2020

Due to Covid-19, and the restrictions in place, the Pride Edinburgh Organisers, with the safety of all attendees at the forefront of their decision making, postponed the celebrations. However, we are with them in spirit, standing in solidarity. We wholeheartedly support equal rights and respect for all people irrespective of Colour, Creed, Sexuality, Gender or Class.

Frazao Studio

Given all that is going on in the world, we feel that now especially is the time for love to conquer all. Now is the time for us to lay down our prejudices and let go of fear. Now is the time for us to (virtually) hug our fellow humans, to open our hearts and minds to respectful kindness. Now is the time to let people be who they are, and to rejoice in the glorious diversity of all. 

Natalie Holt Photos

So, please do join us on the ‘love bus’ – we’d love to welcome you on board. We’ll see you in person on the new date for Pride Edinburgh, yet to be announced, in 2021.

Ben and Neil, married on The Red Bus, Edinburgh, March 2020

We’re expanding our Celebrant network!

Update: Due to Covid-19, we are putting the Agnostic Scotland Life Celebrancy Training plans on hold until 2021. Please contact us if you wish to find out more. We look forward to being in touch with you. Thank you.

At Agnostic Scotland it’s been a busy year. We’ve sowed the seed of a beautiful new belief body and watched it grow. Our three founders, Linda Keys, Andrea Taylor and Onie Tibbitt, have been busy conducting ceremonies in grand hotels and family homes, on hilltops and lochsides, in crematoriums and burial grounds. At Agnostic Scotland, we offer ceremonies that respond to the unique blend of beliefs, values and wishes of the families involved. As one of our ambassadors says:

“In today’s Scotland, there are fewer formal rituals. But our souls still need them. Today, we need a safe space for our rites, our ceremonies. Somewhere where there are no stipulations on God. Or Gods. Or no God(s). Or on gender binaries. Or on what a family looks like. Or on what music you can and can’t sing, or play, or listen to. I am excited that Agnostic Scotland can hold those spaces, perform those rituals, celebrate those ceremonies. Everyone deserves a safe place to mark life’s milestones.”

Stella Hervey Birrell, Award Winning Poet and Writer, East Lothian, Scotland.

Since our launch in November, we’ve been humbled by the response from people across Scotland wishing us well, enquiring about working with us, and asking about how to support our Community Fund and join our Community Connection Gatherings. It’s been a magical year and we are now excited to begin the process of seeking out like-minded others to join our Scotland-wide Life Celebrant network.

“Sooner or later, though, no matter where in the world we live,
we must join the diaspora, venturing beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us.”

Armistead Maupin

If you are someone who has always held a deep fascination for life transitions, who loves to honour rites of passage through ritual and ceremony, who enjoys bringing individuals together in celebration, and who has a heart-centred and open-minded respect towards the many varied, sometimes contradictory, and often complicated beliefs, values and wishes of others, then becoming an Agnostic Scotland Life Celebrant could be the perfect role for you. No prior celebrancy experience is necessary, although experienced celebrants are also welcome to apply.

On 18-22nd November 2020, we will be hosting a 5-day Agnostic Scotland Life Celebrancy Training course in Edinburgh. The course will be comprehensive and will include all aspects of Celebrancy including Weddings, Namings, Funerals and other Life-Transition Ceremonies. We will be focussing on interactive content to build confidence in working with families, collecting information, holding the space, exploring rituals, presenting to a gathering, self-care and mindfulness, navigating challenges, understanding the legal responsibility and role of a celebrant, and more. There will be individual assessment at each stage of the training, and successful candidates would then be invited to participate in the Mentoring programme. Upon successful completion of the Mentoring programme you would be formally accredited as an Agnostic Scotland Life Celebrant. Agnostic Scotland is not an employer; applicants who are successful at all stages and who go on to complete their training will carry out their Life Celebrancy work on a self-employed basis.

We are keen to invite 10-15 Celebrants to join our network and we are limited to recruiting 1-2 Celebrants per geographical area. It is possible to apply to work in an area where you do not live. Ideally applicants should be interested in all aspects of Celebrancy – Weddings, Namings, Funerals, Life-Transition Ceremonies. However, we will consider applications from individuals wishing to only offer Funeral, Life Celebration and Memorial Ceremonies. Whilst we are already at capacity for Wedding Celebrants in the Lothians, we are happy to accept applications from individuals interested in working predominantly as Funeral Celebrants in the Lothians.

Applications will open on 1st June. The application deadline will be 19th August 2020. Interviews will be held on 22-24th September 2020 and the Training is on 18-22nd November.

Please do not register your interest unless you can attend on these dates. To register your interest with a view to applying, please contact us.

We look forward to hearing from you!

We would love to share with you our Launch Ceremony

[Agnostic Scotland Founder Celebrants: Linda Keys, Andrea Taylor and Onie Tibbitt]

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, our Chairperson, kicked off the evening with an Opening Speech]

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.

[We were delighted so many people travelled to join us – from Glasgow, Fife, Edinburgh, Perthshire and the Borders]

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. 

[We are grateful for all the endorsements we have received for our work so far]

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. 

[Our beautiful leaflets feature couples and families we have worked with over the years and who have generously agreed to let us use their gorgeous photos]

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. 

[It was especially lovely to meet so many wonderful celebrants at the Launch]

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.

[Onie spoke about what it means to launch a belief body celebrating Agnosticism]

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. 

[Our banner says it all…]

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.

[Every ceremony reflects the beliefs, values and wishes of the family 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 introducing the sweet Agnostic Scotland Clootie Tree]

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.

[Delicious food (thank you, Embo) and great conversations]

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.

[We love bringing people together….]

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.

[The stage of our Launch Ceremony and the sweet apple Clootie Tree]

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 …..

[Guests dipping their cloots in the seawater]

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.

[Tying the cloots and sending out an intention, a prayer, a wish, a merit…]

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.

Thank You.

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!

[The three Agnostic Scotland Founders tying their cloots]
[The Agnostic Scotland Clootie Tree at home in Portobello with everyone’s cloots attached]

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! ❤️🌿

1 day to go to the launch of Agnostic Scotland…

Tomorrow, we launch Agnostic Scotland, a new not-for-profit organisation bringing beautiful, people-centred Wedding, Naming and Funeral Ceremonies, and Community Connection Gatherings to Scotland. All surplus is reinvested into our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund and Community Connection Gatherings. Check out our Founding Statement.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our weekly blog posts and look forward to welcoming those who can join us at our Agnostic Scotland Launch tomorrow.

Sign up to be a Supporter

Like what you’ve read? We’d love to welcome you to our Agnostic Scotland family. Become a Supporter for just £2 per month, or £20 per year, and feel great about helping to bring affordable ceremonies and donations-based wellbeing workshops and Community Connection Gatherings to Scotland.

Be the first to hear about our news and events and have our eternal thanks for helping to bring what we believe is a wonderful and much-longed for approach to the forefront of Scotland’s life events ecosystem. Click on the links below to sign up:

Help boost our Community Fund for just £2 per month

Prefer to pay annually? Join for £20 per year

Join our Launch Party on 7th November in Edinburgh

RSVP here.

Win an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony

Sign up to our e-newsletter by the launch date and we will enter you into a prize draw to win an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony of your choosing in Edinburgh and the Lothians (or further afield if you are happy to cover travel and accommodation).  Winner will be announced at the Agnostic Scotland Launch Event on 7th November.

Sign up to our Agnostic Scotland e-newsletter and enter our prize draw

3 days to go to the Agnostic Scotland Launch…

Agnostic Scotland is a new not-for-profit organisation bringing beautiful, people-centred Wedding, Naming and Funeral Ceremonies, and Community Connection Gatherings to Scotland. All surplus is reinvested into our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund and Community Connection Gatherings. Check out our Founding Statement.

We’re more excited than we can say to be able to offer legal wedding ceremonies through Agnostic Scotland, as well as naming and funeral ceremonies, any other events of significance to you.

In addition to growing our Celebrant network, we’re hoping to grow our network across Scotland and reach more people through our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund and Community Connection Gatherings.

Interested in working with us?

During 2020, we will be accepting applications for a limited number of spaces from experienced Celebrants who wish to work with us. Initially we are prioritising applications from people who help us achieve our aim for a broader geographic spread throughout Scotland offering person-centred ceremonies and Community Connection Gatherings, and people who help us achieve our aim to become a truly diverse organisation. You need to have attended a recognised Celebrant Training course in the UK, have at least one year’s experience as a practicing Celebrant, and be able to provide client testimonials. Our interview process is rigorous and if you are successful we require you to attend additional in-house training and mentoring. Please do contact us if you are interested. At this stage we are simply collecting contact information from interested Celebrants and will be in touch as soon as we have finalised the application process.

We would also love to hear from outdoor instructors, yoga teachers, mindfulness coaches, and wellbeing practitioners who would like to get involved in helping to run our Community Connection Gathering programme, particularly outside Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Please do get in touch.

Win an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony

Sign up to our e-newsletter by the launch date and we will enter you into a prize draw to win an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony of your choosing in Edinburgh/East Lothian (or further afield if you are happy to cover travel and accommodation).  Winner will be announced at the Agnostic Scotland Launch Event on 7th November.

Sign up to our Agnostic Scotland e-newsletter and enter our prize draw

Join our Launch Party on 7th November in Edinburgh

RSVP here.

1 week to go to Launch: Join an Agnostic Scotland Community Connection Gathering

Only 1 week to go until we launch Agnostic Scotland, a new not-for-profit organisation bringing beautiful, people-centred Wedding, Naming and Funeral Ceremonies, and Community Connection Gatherings to Scotland. All surplus is reinvested into our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund and Community Connection Gatherings. Check out our Founding Statement.

Community Connection Gatherings

We love people… and gatherings… and one of our aims is to bring you all together to do some fun activities.

Join us! We’d love to welcome you to our Community Connection Gatherings. Where possible we get outdoors in nature for some walking, wild swimming, picnics and fun – and to help out with nature clean-ups and litter picks.

We’ll also be attending interesting events, talks, film screenings and workshops that are relevant to our values and of interest to our Supporters. As well as offering donations-based wellbeing workshops such as yoga, mindfulness and relaxation.

Agnostic Scotland Community Connection Gatherings are a wonderful way to meet others, relax in nature and enjoy social time.

As our network grows, we’ll be organising more get-togethers across Scotland. Some events are family-friendly, some for adults only. Please note that all activities are undertaken at your own personal responsibility and risk.

Where possible, we’ve tried to keep things free of charge. Where needed, we suggest a donation to help contribute to our costs. We’ll never turn anyone away if you aren’t able to afford the suggested donation.

See our upcoming events here.

Join us at our Launch Party

Win an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony

Sign up to our e-newsletter by the launch date and we will enter you into a prize draw to win an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony of your choosing in Edinburgh and the Lothians (or further afield if you are happy to cover travel and accommodation).  Winner will be announced at the Agnostic Scotland Launch Event on 7th November.

Sign up to our Agnostic Scotland e-newsletter and enter our prize draw

2 weeks to go to Launch: Discover Agnostic Scotland’s Community Outreach Plans

Only 2 weeks to go until we launch Agnostic Scotland, a new not-for-profit organisation bringing beautiful, people-centred Wedding, Naming and Funeral Ceremonies to Scotland. All surplus is reinvested into our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund and Community Connection Gatherings. Check out our Founding Statement.

Agnostic Scotland Community Fund

We believe strongly that everyone has the right to mark the milestones in their lives in the way that is meaningful to them. Our Values include offering affordable ceremonies to those who would otherwise find it hard to pay for them. In addition, through our Community Connection Gatherings we seek to offer a range of donations based wellbeing workshops and social events in communities.

If you are struggling to pay for your ceremony and you live in an area where Agnostic Scotland Celebrants are based, please contact us and, while we have the funds, we will do what we can to offer you an affordable ceremony. We hope as our network grows to be able to offer affordable ceremonies and wellbeing workshops across Scotland. Every ceremony we conduct contributes towards this foundation.

Become an Agnostic Scotland Supporter

For just £2 a month, or £20 a year, you can help us to realise our goal of providing affordable ceremonies through our Community Fund and Community Connection Gatherings across Scotland… and you’ll have our eternal thanks. Sign up by clicking below:

Help boost our Community Fund for just £2 per month

Prefer to pay annually? Join for £20 per year

Invitation to our Launch Event

WIN an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony

Sign up to our e-newsletter by the launch date and we will enter you into a prize draw to win an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony of your choosing in Edinburgh and the Lothians (or further afield if you are happy to cover travel and accommodation).  Winner will be announced at the Agnostic Scotland Launch Event on 7th November.

Sign up to our Agnostic Scotland e-newsletter and enter our prize draw

3 weeks to launch: Discover Agnostic Scotland’s Values

Agnostic Scotland is a new not-for-profit organisation bringing beautiful, people-centred Wedding, Naming and Funeral Ceremonies, and Community Connection Gatherings to Scotland. All surplus is reinvested into our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund and Community Connection Gatherings. Check out our Founding Statement.

Each week in the countdown to the Launch Event on 7th November, we will introduce you to a different aspect of Agnostic Scotland. This week, we invite you to explore our Vision and Values.

Our Vision

Our vision for Agnostic Scotland came about after many years of us individually offering Independent Ceremonies in Scotland and realising that there was a definite gap in the life event ecosystem of Scotland.

Increasingly, we were being asked by individuals, couples and families to conduct ceremonies that reflected and respected their multi-faceted, sometimes shared, often varied, and occasionally contradictory, beliefs and wishes. We were being asked to conduct Agnostic ceremonies. We’re proud to put individuals at the heart of their ceremonies and to be able to respond to their own unique blend of wishes, values and beliefs, whether that include elements of secular, faith-based, mixed-faith, or spiritual ethos.

One of our guiding principles is our belief that it is rational to admit our own human limitations and accept that we do not, and likely will not, have the answers to all things. Whilst fully supporting scientific reasoning, we believe that there will always be some aspects of the universe around us that we cannot explain.

We are therefore sensitive towards the needs and wishes of individuals who choose to seek meaning or place emphasis on their emotional connection to aspects of religious beliefs, spirituality, or faith-based heritage. An Agnostic ceremony is one which is centred on this principle of open-minded acceptance. This allows us to be entirely undogmatic and collaborative in our approach. And the tenet that we feel really sets us apart is our commitment to representing your beliefs within your ceremony, rather than those of our Celebrants. 

Our Values

We believe in living well, in harmony and equality with all others and with respect for our natural environment. 

*

We are entirely undogmatic in our world view, endorsing no single religion or belief. 

*

We are collaborative and non-judgemental. We respect the beliefs and values of individuals whether that include secular, mixed-faith, spiritual or agnostic beliefs. 

*

We fully endorse and support scientific progress and rational thinking. However, we also accept our own human limitations and believe it is rational to declare that we do not know everything. There will always be some aspects of the universe and the world around us that will remain unexplained.

*

We seek to bring communities together in a collaborative and non-judgemental way to build positive relationships, nurture individual and community health and well being, and protect and respect our natural environment.

*

We believe that every family has the right to a beautiful ceremony to mark the milestones in their lives. Through our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund, we seek to support families who would otherwise be unable to afford the cost of a Funeral, Wedding or Naming Ceremony.

*

WIN an Agnostic Scotland Ceremony

Sign up for our Agnostic Scotland e-newsletter to enter our prize draw

Join our Launch Party at 6-8pm on 7th November in Edinburgh

Please RSVP to let us know you are coming. We hope you can join us!