Ripe for ritual

We are all moving through, and hopefully out of, a period where many of our well known traditions and rituals have been stopped, postponed, edited or required to be re-imagined. 

Currently, in Phase 3, all of us at Agnostic Scotland are working closely with families and couples who would like to include rituals as part of their ceremonies. Certain rituals can be achieved during the current restrictions, it just takes a little bit more planning, consideration and creativity. 

Read here for a little more detail about rituals in the time of Covid-19 and here for the current Scottish Government guidance. 

‘Postponed’ Soulful Celebrant

Over the last few years, the value of ritual and ceremony has become prevalent in all our lives here at Agnostic Scotland. As celebrants we are often asked to hold space for ancient ritual and traditional ceremony. We are also asked to create new rituals and ceremonies to celebrate important occasions for couples, families and communities. There are many moments in life that are ripe for ritual, possibly even more so now that we are beginning to move out of the lockdown period and all that has brought.

Taking time to reflect on the traditions, events, or actions in your life that have had to be paused can be a meaningful exercise.

Soulful Celebrant

For generations families and communities have created their own traditions & rituals. They have all got to start somewhere, now is the time to consider rekindling or creating them, and at the moment inspiration is everywhere.

Edinburgh Celebrant

A post on The Female Lead last week shared a wonderful gender reveal celebration with a couple introducing and welcoming their son Grey. Using modern gender reveal rituals and traditions, Grey’s parents announced how they had got it wrong 17 years ago when they told the world they were having a girl.

Yesterday I listened to author Emma Donaghue and Jane Garvey on BBC Radio Woman’s Hour talk about birth and the grand drama that it is in our lives but how it is not celebrated at all these days. Emma suggests this is due to it being so common and ordinary. Maybe we need more ceremonies and rituals that recognise the quiet heroism of women and acknowledge the warrior status of pregnant, birthing women and mothers that Naomi Woolf talks of. 

Let’s all start looking at ritual and ceremony with fresh eyes, ponder a little on the need for us as humans, as families and as communities to create and have celebrations and ceremonies. Consider the need for blessing-ways, vow renewals, gender reveal celebrations, family blending ceremonies, business launches, openings and of course memorials. For many, grief has been on pause, Onie writes about this beautifully here. 

Last year Andrea conducted the opening ceremony of a new yoga studio. Lane Yoga  is a wonderful community and connection focussed, inclusive yoga studio based in Leith, Edinburgh. We will leave you with an extract from her Soulful Celebrant blog back in January: 

Agnes Pachacz

I was honoured to be asked to collaborate, write and choreograph a ceremony which was to be incorporated into a free community yoga class that was planned for the opening weekend. We decided to base the ceremony on the cardinal directions and create a short ritual based on each of the elements associated with them.

The idea was that everyone present would be taken on a journey around the beautiful new space. We would be introduced to the cardinal direction and it’s associated element with some words. We would then take a moment to ponder each element and support the positive intentions being conjured by the creation of the studio and the space with a thought, a merit or a blessing. Each cardinal direction was represented by an important member of the Lane Yoga community. In turn they each performed a small ritual based on the elements associated with the direction accompanied by the beautiful sounds of a singing bowl. 

Kat Gollock

We began in the East, where the sunrises and considered Air, the invisible element that can be lively or still. With this element, just as with a sunrise, we can find the dawn of new ideas or the light of new beginnings. Moving South we explored the element of Fire.  In this context we considered fire as a beacon of life, offering renewal, success and abundance. 

Kat Gollock

Turning West we contemplated Water. Lane Yoga is next to the Water of Leith and close to the Firth of Forth. We were reminded of the stability and constant presence of the ever moving river and sea. Finally to the North where we considered the solidity and generosity of the Earth element. 

We rounded up the ceremony by offering time to reflect on the collective message of support we were all offering Lane Yoga and were encouraged to dedicate positive thoughts, love and merit to the space, to Moira and Helen, to everyone present and the wider community. We then moved into a wonderful yoga practice followed by a gathering and refreshments. 

Our little elemental ceremony had the ability to support everyone present to move away from their ordinary lives just for a few moments, just as a yoga practice can do, and bring their hearts and focus to themselves, the space and to the intentions of Helen and Moira and the Lane Yoga community they have created.

We would encourage you to explore the value of ritual for any of the times in your life you want to mark or celebrate in some way.

Ritual has the potential to return you to what matters.

Language – is what we do more important than what we say?

Welcome to our latest blog post.

My name is Andrea and I am one of the founders of Agnostic Scotland. I am a midwife and an Agnostic Celebrant. Over the last few years, while weaving the threads of both practices through my life, I have discovered so many parallels. One of the comparable areas, that I couldn’t help noticing quite quickly, is language and specifically the use of the word my.

Definition of my – of or relating to me or myself especially as possessor, agent, object of an action or familiar person

In early 2018 the British Medical Journal published a blog which explored language used in maternity care. The authors put together an alternative language guide for midwives and medical staff and, of course, the media picked up on this with headlines in UK newspapers stating that midwives were “BANNED” (sic) from using certain terms because they could be disrespectful to women.
Well, as you know, you can’t ban people from using certain words and language but you can inspire people to reflect on their communication and the words and language they use.
This discussion is not new to the maternity services. Midwifery language and communication has been researched and written about repeatedly. There is still one specific area we can’t quite agree on though – what we call the women we care for.

Detail from The Great Scottish Tapestry

Patients – could be disempowering, the majority of pregnant women are not sick but well and healthy, they just happen to be pregnant. Ladies – is thought of as patronising. Clients – more suited to hairdressers and therapists. I have even heard midwives call women ‘birds’, or sometimes just ‘Room 8’ or whatever room/bed number the midwife is assigned to.

Personally, I call a woman I care for by her name.

For me what is even more irksome is when midwives talk about ‘my lady’ or ‘my woman’. The woman doesn’t belong to anyone and this kind of language is paternalistic. How we frame things, how we say things influences how we practice, what we do and ultimately how we treat people.

I have noticed a similarity in the wedding sector with celebrants, photographers and other ceremony suppliers often talking about ‘my couple’. Even though this is likely unconscious, and very well intended, it is the kind of language that has the ability to disempower and can influence a relationship.

The individuals that make up a couple don’t belong to anyone.

In our work and practice as celebrants we are not owners of the two people who, may function socially as a unit, but are individual autonomous adults and decision makers. We must promote working in partnership and recognise we are not owners but facilitators. Our language should regard and respect the current social norms, expectations and rights of the people we work with.

I know that in the past I have slipped into the negative terminology that dominates the culture I work in & failed to appreciate the impact my words have had, but after many years working with women, couples and families I feel I know I have made a shift and on the whole I am now mindful of the language I use. That shift came with self-awareness, reflection and a fundamental belief in respecting individuals, choice and equality.

Why not start reflecting on the language you use, the words you utter and type, make a shift if need be. When we are authentic and grounded in our practice it is not difficult to make the language we use about, and around, couples and families appropriate and respectful.

Changing the way we think can change our words and changing our words can change our way of thinking.