We have spent the whole of April in lockdown. In the scheme of our lives it’s a teeny, tiny fraction but the impact on everything in our lives, about our lives, and our future, is huge. While we may feel in limbo, stuck and fed up waiting for life to begin, the Earth keeps turning and the wheel of the year keeps revolving.
So as we say farewell to April and move into May we are half way between the spring equinox and summer solstice. This is a time where we can, instinctively, feel more energetic, outgoing, creative and active. We have more daylight and warmer weather but in reality, at the moment, we probably feel exhausted by the lack of activity, the stress and the emotional labour of getting through every day. This is also normally a time where we get out and about more, enjoy feeling more relaxed due to connections with the natural world and other people but due to the pandemic and restrictions in place we may feel in constant low level survival mode. Life in lockdown does seem to have heightened many peoples awareness of the wonders of spring blossom, sunrises and sunsets at the moment though which is wonderful. Does the sky seem bluer to you? There is a vibrancy and an energy in nature just now that seems in direct contrast with what we are experiencing on the ground. Or are we just seeing everything with fresh eyes due to our situation? In Edinburgh spring, and the weather, in lockdown has been amazing!
This week I’ve been beginning to put ceremonies together for the couples I am working with based on the stories and conversations that we have gathered so far but it’s hard to connect with anything right now in any meaningful way due to anxieties and distractions. For me, when I create ceremony, my head and my heart has got to be in the right space. Just as when a couple gather together to share their story for their ceremony they have to be in the right headspace. Stress can kill the mood, and creativity.
So as we move into May tomorrow we find Beltane, a celebration of the forces of nature. This festival basically celebrates moving into Summer and the growing season but it also celebrates union. It is a time for recognising love and friendship but also for firing up energy while staying grounded. I want to use this wee festival to get me off the corona coaster and try to create some positive energy and fire up some creativity even if it’s just for a few hours or a few minutes. Tonight we are having a garden getaway, the tent is up, we’ll light a fire just after 7pm and at sunrise tomorrow I’ll go for a swim then teach a 7.30am May Day inspired yoga class.
“May, more than any other month of the year, wants us to feel most alive”
The Beltane Fire Society have put together BOnfire – Beltane At Home and it’s a lovely programme of suggestions of activities and ideas inspired by the fire festival and you can do as much or as little as you like, online or offline.
WanderWomenScotland is also inviting people to get up at sunrise (5.28am BST) and welcome May their way.
I realise many of you may have will have questions about your upcoming ceremonies whether they be Wedding Ceremonies, Naming Ceremonies or Vow Renewals especially in the light of the announcement on 23rd March. For some you will find the decisions are out of your hands and for others you’ll feel confused By the inconsistent advice and the decisions that need to be made.
Please try not to worry. It’s important to stay calm so that preparations and decisions can be made that are right, and safe, for you, your family and friends.
A lot of what is going on is out-with our control and this feeling of lack of control can really exacerbate anxiety.
Please note: The National Records of Scotland, at present are not accepting applications for any marriage schedules. Therefore marriage ceremonies cannot be performed. Keep an eye here for marriage schedule updates.
Take a breath, pause and plan.
Try using an acronym like BRAIN to help get things into perspective:
Get together with your partner, consult wider family members, friends and even guests if you like, write these headings down and start listing, brain storming, just get everything out there using:
What are the Benefits of carrying on as planned? To you, to others.
What are the Risks? Think of your guests, ages, travel, numbers of guests, finances etc.
The Alternatives – talk to each other about all the available options. Have you spoken to your service providers about potential alternative dates , if not do so. Making a Plan B (& even C) is probably wise and may put your mind at rest.
What is your Instinct, your gut feeling? Tune in to it, trust it.
If you go through all of the above and just want to pause and change Nothing at the moment that’s fine too.
You can wait and see what unfolds and revisit your list, notes and discussion at anytime. Maybe starting again, adding and subtracting aspects previously considered and newly discovered or advised by Government. Reflect and re-schedule if necessary. If you want to discuss options for a Plan B date let me know.
You have each other, that is the main thing right now. Remember why you are planning all of this in the first place – because of love and trust.
What if you have to, or decide to, postpone your ceremony?
There will be no charge to reschedule the date of your ceremony. I have plenty flexibility this year and next. If I am not available then one of my Agnostic Scotland Life Celebrants colleagues may be. Pencil in a Plan B date as soon as possible.
Would you have to pay anything extra to change your date?
No, no extra charge to hold another date. Your deposit/fee would be transferred to the new date.
What if I, your Marriage Celebrant, become ill or have to cocoon at home at the time of your ceremony?
I have already discussed this with my Agnostic Scotland colleagues and we will endeavour to cover each other’s ceremonies in case of illness. Your back up Celebrant would have access to your final ceremony script and they would make contact with you to say hello and talk through anything with you prior to the ceremony.
We know that currently, with the support of the Registrars, we can obtain emergency discretion for a change of Celebrant, as long as that celebrant is a member of a recognised belief body, if required. We will stay in touch with the National Records of Scotland for further advice in regard to the effect of the pandemic on marriage ceremonies for 2020.
The National Records of Scotland, at present are not accepting applications for any marriage schedules. Therefore marriage ceremonies cannot be performed. Keep an eye here for marriage schedule updates.
For WHO advice re: social distancing and more click here and from NHS Scotland here
Whenever you hold your ceremony what if important guests can’t make it to your ceremony due to restrictions on numbers, travel restrictions or illness?
Have a cry – then get creative.
Film your ceremony
Live stream your ceremony
Use WhatsApp video call
Invite a Tribute/blessing from the guests who can’t make it
Suggest your guests pre-record an audio or film piece to add to your ceremony or speeches
You could represent the person using symbolism – wear something of theirs or something that you feel represents/includes them
Other wedding suppliers
Talk to them. Ask about back up plan and discuss options. Communication is key. This can help get things in perspective, help feelings of helplessness and anxiety and also allow you to feel and connect with the support that is out there.
What you can do to support yourself and keep safeand healthy
Eat well, get plenty sleep, stay at home, wash your hands, access your usual exercise regime, get fresh air, minimise Social Media – wash your hands – and ask for support and help. Talk things through with your nearest and dearest. Use BRAIN. Keep yourself informed with all the latest advice, health and otherwise, from Government. Reach out to others.
Am I keeping myself safe?
Yes, I am. I love hugs, kisses and shaking hands but am saving that for a later date. I’m washing my hands, staying at home, eating well, getting plenty of sleep and fresh air, washing my hands and leaning into my Celebrant community for support. I am keeping myself up to date with all the latest advice too from the Government and the Ceremony sector. It must be acknowledge that keeping myself safe may also mean my advice to you would be to postpone or go ahead but with only you two and immediate family members maintaining suitable distance. This is something I will discuss with each couple.
I am also acutely aware of the need to support other Celebrants and small businesses at this time as well as my local community, neighbours and friends.
Reflect and reschedule if need be – don’t cancel LOVE If you do decide to postpone let’s think of a way you can celebrate or mark your original date. Make an event, a ritual for just the two of you, make it positive and that way it will become part of your story, part of your ceremony and part of your wedding day.
Last year my colleagues at Agnostic Scotland and I discussed an idea to support a project run by Trees for Life, a conservation charity dedicated to rewilding the Caledonian Forest which is a rich habitat found in the Scottish Highlands. So on Christmas Eve 2019 we bought a digital grove and began to donate trees. The Agnostic Scotland digital grove has now been populated with 60 trees. You can have a look here & learn about the native species that are planted on our behalf.
Our plan is that our grove will be planted in honour of the communities and the families whose ceremonies we, as Agnostic Scotland Celebrants, conduct.
As Agnostic Scotland celebrants we are privileged to support people as they navigate important transitions in their lives and planting trees in support of this wonderful rewilding project is such a perfect way to show our appreciation to all the remarkable individuals, families and communities we are lucky enough to encounter through in our work. It is also an opportunity to express our respect, gratitude and hope for the natural world that sustains us all.
Therefore, from now on when communities come together to collaborate and celebrate through ceremony and ritual I will plant a tree in support. Every time I have the honour of working with a couple who are getting married, exchanging vows or expressing their life commitment to one another I will plant a tree to celebrate their union. When blessingways and naming ceremonies welcome new babies I will plant a tree to celebrate their arrival. When families gather to celebrate the life of a loved one who has died I will plant a tree in their memory.
For those of you who I have connected with recently or am working with currently I have donated trees to thank and honour you. I feel quite a buzz thinking of your native Scottish tree happily growing into mature trees that will transform hillsides into young woodland, then mature into wild forests for future generations to enjoy.
‘the clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness’
If you’ve been following my blog you will know that I am a midwife and a 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.
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:
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 ceremony sector with celebrants, photographers and suppliers often talking about ‘my couple’. Even though this is very likely unconscious and 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. No one owns the two people who, may function socially as a unit but, are individual autonomous adults and decision makers.
In our work and practice as celebrants 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.
Start reflecting on the language you use, the words you utter and type and make a shift if need be. 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.
I have been so busy over the last few months continuing to work as a midwife, completing a Yoga Teacher Training, beginning to establish teaching yoga while undertaking further celebrancy training and building my Soulful Celebrant website and business. What has also taken up a big share of my time, passion and love has been collaborating and creating Agnostic Scotland. A new not-for-profit belief body for Scotland.
My independent celebrant friends and colleagues, Onie Tibbitt and Linda Keys, and I became aware of the increasing interest in, and requests for, agnostic ceremonies. This then highlighted to us the lack of choice available to couples and families who wish to have ceremonies that are unique to them and their beliefs and values.
We launched Agnostic Scotland early November 2019 with an event in Edinburgh at a beautiful venue in Leith. Many friends, family and colleagues from the ceremony sector joined us to celebrate with a ceremony which included an introduction to Agnostic Scotland, a reading, a tree dressing ritual and a beautiful rendition of Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come All Ye’ and of course delicious refreshments. It was a wonderful evening. An opportunity for the three of us to draw a line between what has gone before and what is ahead and to begin to cultivate a true course for Agnostic Scotland.
For me this all feels so right. Just as my midwifery practice is underpinned by supporting choice, truly informed choice, for women and families, in my celebrancy practice I also feel strongly that families should be able to have choice and decide how to mark their own life transitions however big or small, traditional or unconventional, religious or secular. Linda and Onie feel the same so we all got together and did something about it. We created Agnostic Scotland. Now there is an additional option for couples and families who wish to make space to celebrate, mourn, remember, declare love and use ritual to create their own ceremony.
Please browse theAgnostic Scotland website and our FAQ page to find out more about us and our ethos. Our plans for 2020 are already forming and taking shape with steering group formation and celebrant training on the agenda. You can read all about this and more on our blog.
Interested to know more about Agnosticism. Here is a recent article in The Herald inspired by Agnostic Scotland.