It’s Pride month and 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.
Given all that is going on in the world, we feel that now especially, is a time for love. Now is the time for us to do the work, recognise and 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. Now is the time to let people be who they are, and to rejoice in the glorious diversity of all.
So, please do join us on the virtual ‘love bus’ for now – we’d love to welcome you on board as soon as we can and we’ll see you all on the new date for Pride Edinburgh, yet to be announced, in 2021.
Though we are still in lockdown here in Scotland there is a tiny wee light at the end of the tunnel with the publication of the Scottish Governments Route Map. To get to that light, to the other side of the tunnel, it is going to take quite a bit of navigation, risk assessment, good communication, empathy and kindness. Safety is a priority and this will add to worries and anxieties in regard to decision making around wedding days, guest, celebrations, ceremony choices and, even, the rituals a couple may wish to include in a ceremony. Having anxieties and worries is very much part of the normal human condition, totally normal, but they can be repetitive, with the same rhythms, cycles and patterns and this can wear you down. Of course, at the moment, all our regular worries and anxieties are amplified by the current situation, with plenty of new concerns thrown in. The discomfort I spoke of in an earlier blog is still with us all and will remain for a long, long time. It’s something I’m learning to live with and I’m sure you are too.
I was reflecting recently on what I find helpful when I am faced with increased worries or anxieties and I began to remember all the ways I used to, and still, support my daughters when they experienced stress or anxieties. One of the things I did when they were primary school age was give them Worry Dolls. The Guatemalan or Mexican dolls are confidantes of sorts. Thought to be based on a Mayan legend about a princess who received a special gift from a sun god that allowed her to solve any problem a human could worry about. The tiny dolls represent the princess. At the end of the day before bed you share your worry with the doll and then pop it under your pillow. The doll worries about your problem instead of you so you can get a good nights sleep. Perfect! It’s actually a really tender and beautiful tradition or ritual that can be deeply soothing. It’s basically a chance to say your worries out loud – to the dolls – and in turn they, to an extent, give you the wisdom to acknowledge, and the power to eliminate, your worries.
It could be interpreted as a powerful ritual that gives you a choice. You can choose to transfer your worries, hand them over, share them. This ritual can help you realise that you have the power and choice to do that. Externalising the problem makes it seem less intimidating and much more manageable as a result. If you share it with the doll you may then feel you can share it with your loved one, family or friends. A problem shared is a problem halved as the old proverb goes.
I came across a Worry Doll App recently which is so sweet. I also found some wedding worry dolls in Edinburgh recently, perfect for couples preparing and planning to get married, especially in the time of corona. I love this gang of couples. If I’m your celebrant watch out for a wee wedding worry doll couple winging their way to you soon to help voice your anxieties, share your worries and maybe even get a good nights sleep.
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 walk through Craigmillar Castle Park regularly and I love it. The woodland paths and parkland around Craigmillar Castle are peaceful and magical with a quiet sense of the history and spirit that it is steeped in.
The castle itself, dating back to the early 14th century, sits radiant atop a rocky 9 metre precipice and retains the peaceful air of the rural retreat it was known as in 1560’s when Edinburgh nobility, and even Mary Queen of Scots, sought haven here.
Known as Edinburgh’s ‘other castle’ it is thought by some to be the best example of a medieval castle surviving in Scotland. The Preston family, and successive generations built, and then added onto, the Tower House until it was sold to Sir John Gilmour in the 17th century.
In this beautifully preserved, ruined stronghold we find an amalgam of architectural styles soaked in a long history.
I have visited this castle many times and my children have fond memories of exploring the many winding staircases leading to a variety of chambers and halls, clambering to the top of the tower, having birthday picnics in the grounds and running between the two yew trees that frame the entrance to the courtyard. It is thought that the trees were planted in honour of Mary, during one of her residencies.
From the top of the tower you can take in wonderful views of Edinburgh’s Old Town skyline, the Pentland Hills, the Firth of Forth and over to Fife. Also you can see the area that became known as Petite France (Little France) named by locals after Mary Queen of Scots’ mainly French entourage, who would camp half a mile away in the valley below the castle when she was in residence. The fact that locals gave the area this name may highlight how frequent and lengthy her visits were.
Directly across from Craigmillar Castle you can see it’s big cousin, Edinburgh Castle. I heard a lot of stories about the Scottish Queen as a child and I still like to imagine Mary, Queen of Scots and her courtiers travelling through the then rural landscape of fields, woods and parkland between the two castles on horseback, in carriages and on foot.
This site has such a rich history yet it is the least visited tourist site in Edinburgh. This does make me sad but I also recognise that when it comes to ceremony, this tranquil, unhurried space offers such wonderful potential to couples and families. Intimate ceremony and ritual can be created which embraces the calm, quiet mood while weaving the history of the castle and the story of the couple or family together.
With permission very small ceremonies or elopements could take place anywhere in the grounds but The Great Hall can host a ceremony for around 60 people. It is a majestic, yet somewhat intimate space accessed via a spiral staircase. The hall, in all its stone and vaulted ceiling glory, can be softened with a red carpet and candlelight but today, that wasn’t needed because what caught my attention was the quality of the luminous winter light that shone into the hall.
That soft, ambrosial light that winter brings to Scotland followed us throughout our visit today just as the friendly resident cat did.
It felt very odd not switching the Christmas tree lights on this morning. I missed it. It’s a small ritual that I have carried out daily over the last three weeks or so – before the main ritual of making coffee.
We have all just moved through a period in the year that is riddled with repetitive actions. Whether based on religion or not, old or new, loved or despised, traditions and rituals underpin the festive period for many of us. A recent radio discussion inspired me to reflect a little on the need for us as humans, and as families, to create and have rituals. Think about all the things, events or actions in your family, your life, your group of friends and your community that are, or have become traditions. They may have developed organically or have been generated with a purpose in mind. For generations families and communities have created their own traditions & rituals. They have all got to start somewhere.
Over the last year the value of ritual and ceremony to serve a purpose has become rather prevalent in my life due to the various paths I am following and activities I have been undertaking. At a recent celebrant retreat we explored the skill of holding space for ancient ritual and traditional ceremony, but also the skill of collaborating and creating ceremony for any occasion. Life is ripe for opportunities for ritual.
So, what could be more suitable occasion for ceremony than the opening of a new yoga studio. Lane Yoga is a wonderful community focussed inclusive yoga studio based in Leith, Edinburgh created by Moira MacFarlane and Helen Gillespie.
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 ritual based on each of the elements associated with them.
The idea was that everyone present would be taken on a journey around the space. They would be introduced to the cardinal direction and it’s associated element with some words from me. They 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 invited 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.
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.
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 presence of the ever moving river and sea.
Finally to the North where we considered the solidity and generosity of the Earth element.
All the ritual elements were gently passed by the yogis to the Pūjā in the centre of the room. A Pūjā altar is a dedicated space where you can make an offering, show respect and set intentions.
The ceremony was rounded up by offering time to reflect on the collective message of support we were all offering Lane Yoga and encouragement to dedicate positive thoughts, love and merit to the space, to Moira and Helen, to everyone present and the wider community. We then flowed 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, Moira and the Lane Yoga community.
Just like yoga, ritual can return you to what matters.
I’d like to share with you my script from our Agnostic Scotland launch ceremony which tells you a little about our apple tree, our Tree Dressing and more.
Hello everyone! It is so good to see you all here together in this wonderful space.
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.
I found the stark reality of ‘The Ballad of Julie Cope’ very poignant. To have the tale of a ‘fictional every-woman’ told via such large, beautiful tapestries is very powerful. With Grayson Perry’s narration of the folklore style ballad filling the gallery, you can’t help but absorb Julie’s story.
Of course, the descriptions of some of the ceremonial events in her life caught my celebrant attention. Short paragraphs highlight contrasting wedding ceremonies decades apart and the longer tale of Julie’s funeral is poetic and moving. I won’t reveal too much here, go to see the exhibition in Edinburgh if you can. http://dovecotstudios.com
What I will share, because I found this part of the tale magical, is the touching moment when grieving Rob ‘knows what he has to do’. Inspired by his recollections of their trip to India where they marvelled at the Taj Mahal and the love story behind the mausoleums creation, Rob decides to build a secular chapel in Julie’s memory.
And reader, the chapel does exist, it is Perry’s ‘House for Essex’, where ‘The Ballad of Julie Cope’ tapestries are housed. This is a project built as a memorial, inspired by pilgrimage chapels and shrines. A fictional chapel built for a fictional character underpinned by a narrative of love.