, ,

The Bookends of Marriage

 

All marriages end. Whether by death, divorce or old-fashioned neglect, the rose-hued dreams we had for Happily Ever After become eroded in the passage of time. To love is to risk. Who here hasn’t gambled on love? And if we knew that someday it all would end, would we have taken even a single step in the direction of our dreams?

 

We’re just walking through life, minding our own business (although, increasingly, people are actively searching for love online), when slap bang onto our path walks someone who turns our head. Kapow! Gotcha! Whatever direction it was we thought we were walking in, suddenly changes. Our worlds collide, and in time we’re setting up home or having babies or travelling the world together. One thing’s for sure: when ‘the one’ comes along, most of us will tilt our world sideways to ensure longevity. Compromise after compromise after compromise. Afterall, why wouldn’t we want that wonderful feeling of love to last forever? (well, whatever ‘forever’ actually means in mortal terms)

 

The wedding industry is huge. As a wedding celebrant, my focus is purely on the ceremony and what I can bring to help a couple set the scene for their vows, promises and pledges. I bring my whole heart to this role, and in that wholeheartedness my deepest wish is that their intentions come to fruition.

 

 

But what of those at the other end of marriage? Where is the ‘industry’ (apart from greedy lawyers and divorce courts) or support systems to cushion those who find themselves walking out the other end of marriage – alone – their dreams crushed into the dust? Where are all the well wishers then? Why isn’t there a support team to help you move along with the next chapter/s of your life? Because it’s not pretty, that’s why!

 

When someone is widowed, sure, there’s the funeral, but what of the support for the person who is now living without the daily companionship of their beloved? The bottom line is that there is no one to fill that void. The loss of that vitality and life force that their loved one brought into their lives is akin to an earthquake. The landscape is forever changed. There are support groups for widows and widowers, but it seems to me that, as a culture, we simply don’t have the cushioning needed for this bookend.

And then there are people like myself who, for whatever reason, come to the end of what may well have been a long and happy marriage, and then find themselves separating. Not only does a marital separation of the couple ‘least likely to split’ terrify your friends and have them running in the opposite direction in case it somehow illuminates the fault lines in their own marriage, it also leads to people assuming the one who did the leaving is ‘ok’. The one who is ‘left behind’ is to be pitied and rallied around. It’s not surprising, really, given the litigious culture we live in. We’re virtually raised on the blame game from the get go.

I can hand on heart say, from my own experience, that grieving for a person who is still alive is even more painful that grieving for someone who is dead.

 

 

As a woman, wife, mother and celebrant, I have done enormous soul searching over the past 20 or so months since that first moment I became aware of the inner turmoil looming within me. It’s torn my heart in half over and over. If my husband had been a bad person, or had done something wrong, maybe this path I’ve walked might have been easier. I don’t know. All I know is that I’d irrevocably changed following my dearest friend’s suicide on Christmas Day 2016.

To those who ‘gossip’ that I’m okay and looking good, here’s the truth: I’m not! I just have an ability to know what my needs are and how to tend to my wounds in silence. Solitude is my healer. It always has been.

 

As a celebrant, I’ve offered divorce ceremonies right from the outset. People used to laugh and think I did it for ‘repeat’ business. That one day my wedding clients would come to me to be undone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am a hopeless romantic (the unpublished romance novels on my laptop are proof enough of that), and do still dream of happily ever after, if not for me, then for every other person walking this earth with that longing. I’m also realistic and know that humans are deeply complex. My own evolution is also teaching me constantly, and as a result my work has to evolve alongside my personal life. In the past, I’ve always felt strongly that a divorce ceremony should involve both parties. I now see that a Parting of the Ways ritual shouldn’t be denied to someone because their ex-spouse isn’t willing to take part or has blanked them.

 

Forgiveness doesn’t require the other person’s permission. To forgive is to free ourselves.

I am so grateful for the 23 years of stability, kindness, love, laughter and care (and the awesome daughters we raised together) that I enjoyed in my relationship. At no level of my being do I see our parting as a failure, though that doesn’t stop the pain of separation. Honouring the change of nature in our relationship is something, that to my mind, doesn’t require a piece of paper from the government.

Into the depths of the woods I shall enter, and true to my nature as a solitary practitioner of healing, I will allow the wisdom and wonder of Mother Nature to be the altar upon which I heal this bone-deep loss. I trust in her to allow my ‘ceremony for one’ to bring both of us a soothing balm that will echo through time and space and love. And maybe, just maybe, my intentions for peace, love, harmony and forgiveness will heal others, too.

“When words are inadequate, have a ritual.”

 

What is a death café?

 

The words death and café conjure such different images, don’t they? The idea of placing them alongside each other evokes confusion or curiosity, but rarely is the response neutral.

 

Grief, pain, torment, shock, loss, heartbreak, endings, finality.

Cappuccino, cake, tea, scones, taste sensation, pleasure, companionship, joviality.

 

How on earth do you link them together? And perhaps, more importantly, WHY would you put them as companions in written or spoken word?

 

When I tell people I facilitate a Death Café, the response is invariably one of horror or of intrigue. Generally, those who find it distasteful don’t want to engage in any further discussion. Those of a curious nature learn a heck of a lot in a short space of time.

There are approximately 8, 472 Death Cafés around the world in 65 countries. Some are offered regularly, and others occasionally. What they all have in common is a desire to raise awareness and help remove taboos around death and dying through friendly discussion. There is no set agenda.

My passion for setting up a monthly Death Café in Penrith was initially prompted because I wanted to bring choice and change to my local community. Few people consider death until it slaps them in the face (and if you’ve experienced grief, you know full well that ‘slap’ is an understatement). When suddenly faced with having to arrange a funeral, the chief mourner has anywhere between 80 and 300 decisions to make. That’s a hell of a lot of computing for the neo-cortex to deal with at a time when the body needs to be expressing raw grief.

 

Having seen behind the scenes of the funeral industry, as a funeral celebrant, I wanted people to start having conversations about death. In short, I was determined to disrupt the cultural script (in my neck of the woods, anyway) that death is a dirty word.

 

January 11th 2017 is a date that will stay in my mind for many reasons. Once I had decided to set up a Death Café, I chose my first date: January 11th. I would host meetings on the second Wednesday of each month for as long as there was interest. As per usual in my life, the Universe likes to amplify things a bit. I had no idea in the world (how could I have?), that on Christmas Day just previous, my best friend of eighteen years would hang herself. My whole being turned inside out as I grappled with the trauma and shock. As Fate would have it, her funeral date was January 11th just an hour or so after my first Death Café. I was to be the celebrant. Needless to say I was staring death in the face without any full-force protection that day!

 

Through conversations around cake and coffee, tea and scones, and amidst the gorgeous setting of Greenwheat Florist and Fika, a beautiful café and flower shop on Brunswick Road, Penrith (and thanks to the kindness and generosity of owners Laura and Lee for creating space for us there) we have started writing a new story. It’s one of choice, change, consciousness, creativity and care. Some of our guests have been there since that first session back in January 2017. Their thoughts on death, dying and indeed, living, have had quite a metamorphosis in that time.

 

No subject around death or dying is taboo. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve explored, we’ve asked questions, we’ve shared books. Opinions are sometimes diametrically opposed, and that’s okay too. After all, it is a discussion group. We’ve covered topics ranging from eco-burials, ashes into jewellery, life after death, the ethics of the funeral-director industry, coffins and shrouds, cultural death practices around the world, pet deaths, grief, mourning, caring for a body at home, the politics of death, burial v. cremation, how to choose a funeral director, what makes a meaningful life.

 

Who comes to a Death Café? Anyone at all. We’ve had mourners, celebrants and a funeral director, hospice care workers, those who are simply curious, and friends who’ve been dragged along and rather enjoyed it. I can’t speak for other Death Cafés around the world, but I know that I look forward to our friendly little group in Penrith. Sometimes it’s been incredibly busy, with sixteen or so people gathered in a little café, and other times it’s just two or three of us. For my part, I’m there regardless ready and willing to have a conversation about death, dying, love, living, and more. Most importantly, to show others that death is not a dirty word.

 

About Me:

Hello, my name is Veronika Robinson, an independent funeral celebrant in rural Cumbria.

Determining the nature and feel of a ceremony isn’t as simple as: religious or not religious. Most people have their own hybrid philosophy of life, death, love and living, and as your celebrant I seamlessly weave your beliefs into a ceremony that is enriching, healing and affirming of the relationship you shared with your beloved. I am able to do this because I listen clearly and carefully. At all times, my job is to craft a ceremony which belongs to you.

I’ve been an independent celebrant since 1995, and have officiated all manner of ceremonies internationally. My intention is to create, write and officiate deeply meaningful, personalised and beautiful ceremonies for every person I am honoured to serve.

Being a funeral celebrant, for me, is a vocation which is founded upon high-level care, compassion, empathy, responsibility and awareness.

Ceremonies, when crafted with skill and love, have the ability to be deeply healing.

Just You and I: the magical intimacy of eloping

Is ‘running off in secret’ something couples do to avoid dealing with complicated relations, permission, expensive commercialised wedding days and high-level stress or is the shrouding of the event in secrecy a form of magical intimacy? Culturally we’ve been somewhat conditioned to believe it’s rather anti-social behaviour, and often done in haste, but I would suggest reframing elopement. Perhaps honouring the delicious esoteric nature of lovers’ promises is a healthier way of viewing this less-traditional crossing the threshold?

 

Geoff, the handsome groom

 

When my dear friend Tanya confided that she and her beloved, Geoff, were eloping, I did a happy dance. YES! Actually, I was ecstatically happy! I’ve known Tanya a long time, and had the honour of officiating her son’s naming ceremony in Australia 20 years ago.

Carefully chosen items for the wedding altar

 

 

Why was I so delighted? You’d possibly think, as a wedding celebrant (and, obviously, as a friend), that I’d want to see the gathering of guests and all that a wedding ceremony traditionally entails. Without her giving me any explanation as to their decision, I fully understood why they were taking this path.

 

 

There are many reasons for choosing to elope, and while it’s more common for people entering their second or later marriage, even first timers can enjoy the intimacy which comes from ‘just the two of us’.

Tanya on the verandah of the beachside cottage they stayed in for their elopement

The benefits of eloping:

 

  1. The focus is entirely on yourselves. No expensive venue. No exorbitantly priced disco lights. No wedding invitations. No caterers. No £500 wedding shoes. No having to mediate between parents and in-laws’ ideas about what you should do or have.
  2. No extortionate wedding expenses. If you fancy going away, you can spend money on travel instead and have an amazing adventure.
  3. There’s no worry about who to place at what table for the reception, or the hell of divorced parents having to meet up.
  4. You don’t have to be concerned about who to invite.
  5. You don’t have to worry about stage fright and nerves.
  6. It is incredibly intimate and ever so romantic, and the whole day is about you (not anyone or anything else).

Traditionally a wedding is done before friends and family as witnesses, and the sharing of your joy is what helps to make it such a special occasion. In this day and age where weddings have become so commercialised, often costing couples anywhere between £10 000 and £50 000 (in Cumbria, at a registered venue), imagine what a couple could do with that money? Apart from a lovely destination elopement or honeymoon, it could provide a solid basis for creating a home. Or it could feed a few orphans. Or rescue animals. At the heart of any wonderful wedding is the ceremony. No amount of money in the world will make it extra special. The secret ingredient of a beautiful wedding ceremony is the undiluted love the couple share with each other. It’s not dependent on anything but looking into each other’s eyes as they declare their commitment.

 

They said I DO!

 

Elopement might just become the new norm as more couples recognise how many benefits there are to saying “I do” without an audience.

 

Your wedding day sets the tone ~ a template, if you like ~ for your married life. Whatever choices you make, it’s important that they feel right to you and aren’t based on keeping everyone else happy.

 

Tanya and Geoff on their wedding day. They eloped to Tasmania.

 

Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos with the world, Tanya and Geoff. Wishing you all the best for an amazing life together. You deserve it!

 

About Me:

Veronika Robinson is a wedding celebrant who has been officiating wedding ceremonies since 1995. She loves the intimacy that comes with ‘just the couple’.

 

If you’d love to have an obligation-free chat about eloping in Cumbria or are planning a destination wedding here with guests, contact her: www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

The Final Curtain

Is the closing of curtains a vital ritual in the cremation service or an out-of-date tradition? A fundamental aspect of being a funeral celebrant is the ability to listen the needs and wishes of the chief mourner. One of the questions that we must ask, for those planning a cremation service, is “Do you want the curtains closed or left open?”

Increasingly, mourners are asking for the curtains to remain open. The thought of them closing is simply ‘too much’. It is an understandable fear, and regardless of the Chief Mourner’s decision, I respect the choice they make.

 

From the perspective of being specialist in ritual and ceremony, I’d like to share a few reasons why the drawing of curtains shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed.

 

Although our currency of communication is based on words and language, there are times when these are inadequate to reach into the core of where we need deepest healing. On such occasions, we call upon ritual to inform our ways.

 

The drawing of curtains on our beloved’s earthly life is enacted with immense reverence. It isn’t just a gimmick or one more bit of funereal theatre. It has a profound purpose, and isn’t done to make grief even more unbearable. This symbolic act of closure may offer us healing. It allows us to be mindful, and to recognise that the bond we’ve had in physical life is now over. Our loved one, in the form we knew them, has gone. Our love, however, shall remain.

 

As a child, I was raised on 700 acres in rural Australia where my siblings and I were surrounded by dozens of horses, cats and an assortment of wildlife. One of the things that always struck me deeply was how when a horse or cat died, other horses/cats would come up and smell the body. They’d walk around it, touch it, and make the connection that nothing was happening in that body anymore.

 

I had no way of truly appreciating the value of this until my father was killed in a car accident a little over seven years ago. I hadn’t seen him for about thirteen years, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had to view him in an open casket. Doing so allowed me to do what came so instinctively to the animals I had watched as a child. I was able to hold his hands and give thanks for all the work he’d done during his life to provide my siblings and I with a lovely childhood.

 

My hands then touched his cheeks. I smiled as I ran my fingers in and over the chicken-pox scars in his cheeks. As meaningful as his funeral ceremony was (apart from the useless celebrant getting his name wrong throughout), in many ways I gained far more from being able to body-and-mind register that he was dead. My ability to grieve was augmented in a healthy way. Not everyone has the option or chooses to see their loved one in death. Perhaps other sit with them during the dying process, and have no desire to see them again in that state afterwards. There is no right or wrong in how we walk ourselves through this part of grief, and from my perspective, certainly no judgement.

 

However, from a ceremony perspective, I have often found that a burial (particularly the woodland burials I officiate), can bring more closure to mourners because they are directly connected to the elements: they’re standing on the earth.

 

They feel the sunshine on their skin (or in the case of the vast majority of burials I do, the rain, sleet, hail or snow, or howling winds). There is birdsong in the air. Perhaps bluebells dance at our feet. Maybe the scent of the woodland floor rises up to meet us in welcoming reverence. And then…and then we witness the shrouded body or coffin going down, down, down into the embrace of mother earth. We are connected to the act of saying goodbye. Yes, it bloody well hurts. It’s meant to! We are severing a physical tie with someone who lives in our heart. This is raw grief. This is what it means to let someone go.

 

 

In a crematorium, we are (by nature of the process) disconnected to the element to which we are committing the body. Yes, we talk about the primordial nature of fire. But here’s the crucial thing: at the time of committing the body, we don’t see, smell or hear the fire.

 

The heat of those flames isn’t there to remind us of the transformation taking place. Smoke doesn’t permeate the landscape around us. We’re not piling logs onto the fire as a ceremonial rite. Whether we like it or not, we are disconnected from the commitment process of how we offer the body.

 

 

The tradition of cremating a body in a pyre connects mourners to the transformative nature of the ritual. Sitting in a crematorium does not.

So the ritualistic nature of closing the curtains in a cremation service is one of the only ways in which we truly have of informing our psyche that the physical life is over, and gone from our view. It is a simple act, yet deeply powerful. So powerful, in fact, that many mourners are shying away from including it in the ceremony. There are many layers of our being involved in recognising the passing of a loved one, and some of those layers need physical acts, like rituals, to enable the full flow of grieving.

 

Leaving your loved one’s body on the catafalque and walking away from them may prove to be a lot harder than having them ‘vanish’ behind the curtain.

 

There is no right or wrong decision to be made. It is, as always, the choice of the Chief Mourner.

 

About Me:

Bidding a loved one farewell is a rite of passage that only happens once, so it has to be right.

 

Hello, my name is Veronika Robinson. It would be my honour to be graced with supporting you during your time of grief. The ceremony I create for you is based on your beliefs (and/or those of your loved one). This means I am not constrained by any belief system or motivated by my own.

 

I’ve officiated all manner of ceremonies, and am as comfortable leading mourners in The Lord’s Prayer as I am with a pagan ritual, angel blessing, or any other expression of deeply held beliefs. Whether you’re looking for a traditional service or something wildly unique, or anywhere in between, I have the skills and experience to meet your wishes.

 

Determining the nature and feel of a ceremony isn’t as simple as: religious or not religious. Most people have their own hybrid philosophy of life, death, love and living, and as your celebrant I seamlessly weave your beliefs into a ceremony that is enriching, healing and affirming of the relationship you shared with your beloved. I am able to do this because I listen clearly and carefully. At all times, my job is to craft a ceremony which belongs to you.

 

I’ve been an independent celebrant since 1995, and have officiated all manner of ceremonies internationally. My intention is to create, write and officiate deeply meaningful, personalised and beautiful ceremonies for every person I am honoured to serve.

 

Being a funeral celebrant, for me, is a vocation which is founded upon high-level care, compassion, empathy, responsibility and awareness.

 

Ceremonies, when crafted with skill and love, have the ability to be deeply healing.

“Thank you for everything you have done for us over the last few weeks. Your warmth and sensitivity made an awful situation just about bearable. I do hope we get to meet up again under better circumstances. You managed to write a beautiful eulogy that I will keep for my children.” Becky (Chief Mourner)

 

Sacred Cords: the ancient ritual of joining hands

 

Some of the oldest rituals transcend time because, when words can no longer express our deepest needs, we turn to the art of storytelling by imagery. This allows deeply significant symbolism to embed into our psyche. It’s akin to dropping an archetypal-rich anchor deep into an artesian basin to draw up ancestral wisdom and bring it to the light of consciousness.

 

Loz and Katie’s Handfasting Ceremony by the waterfall

 

 

The consecrated cord features as a beautiful, time-old ritual in many of the wedding ceremonies I’m blessed to officiate. It is known as a handfasting, and is a respected Pagan custom.

 

It doesn’t matter how many times I partake in offering this ritual, I am in awe of its sacredness. Each and every time I wrap those cords, mindfully, and with love, around a couple’s wrists, it is like the first time.

Marion and Dave’s wedding altar in a wildflower meadow

 

The ancient Celts bound hands together not as a wedding ritual, but to mark the start of an engagement. This union was for ‘a year and a day’. In many ways, it was a trial marriage to see if they could endure their connection (and hopefully thrive!). Upon straddling this dedicated stretch of days and nights, they could either decide to part ways or commit to a long-term relationship.

 

As an independent celebrant, I offer handfastings to either augment the ritual of giving rings or as a stand-alone commitment for as long as love shall last.

Officiating Tom and Andri’s Handfasting at Shap Wells

 

On a practical level, there are as many variations of how to make and tie a handfasting cord as there are couples. Traditionally, though, it is based on three cords: one symbolises the Universe (God/Goddess/All That Is), another symbolises the groom, and the other the bride. Or, as the case may be, one of the grooms or one of the brides. It is not gender specific, but based on each person in the couple.

My preference is to tie the cord around the couple’s wrists, and then ask them to make their vows. In my practice as a Heart-led Celebrant, I offer the Four Sacred Vows for them to enter into as part of their declaration of loving commitment.

In silence, I tie the cord in a figure of eight to symbolise eternity.
It can, however, be tied in a circle.

 

Mike and Petra’s handfasting ceremony at a stone circle in Yorkshire

 

As with so many aspects of ritual creation and ceremonial rites of passage, the symbolism of what we use and how we do it, is always taken into account. Therefore, the colour, type of cord, the length, and even how many individual cords are used, will come down to what is meaningful to the couple. For example, when I’m making the cord, I do it based on the original meaning of three cords.

One of my lovely couples employed seven cords in their handfasting ritual: one cord for each of the seven families who were attending. They were chosen by each family with love and care.

Another couple, farmers, chose old-fashioned baling twine for their cord.

One of my grooms had a naval background, so he chose a mariner’s knot. Regardless of what is used, it always needs to be meaningful to the couple. It is, after all, their love story.

Which hand or wrist is used is also something to be considered. Unless the couple has expressed a desire for something else, I traditionally use left wrist to left wrist, as the ancients believed the vein of love (Vena Amoris) ran from the ring finger to the heart.
No matter what colour, number of cords, beliefs of the couple, or way the knot is tied, the wrapping of hands together is a declaration of their oneness.

In its simplest form, a handfasting is a rather magical handshake. The knotting is beautiful, and its imagery is a feast for the eyes and a balm for the soul. It simply says: We are two coming together as one.

As a celebrant, setting the intention before any ceremony is a vital part of my work. The creating of a cord for a couple, as well as the ritual itself, is a mindful act of care and reverence for the couple’s love.

The cords I weave are made on the basis of a measurement of three, considered to be magical in this ancient ritual. It is crafted from natural materials, and the colours are usually based on what is meaningful to my couple or their wedding colours. If they haven’t specified a preference, I may suggest colours based on their symbolism.

 

Wendy and Ken’s Handfasting Ceremony was in their Lake District home.

 

The energetic intention behind the wrapping of a sacred cord is to bring protection, and is a co-creative ritual between the couple and myself. They are there as participants in a magical and metaphysical ritual of manifesting their desired union.
Oftentimes when I’m weaving the cord, I’ll sing or hum and invoke a Higher Energy to infuse an intention of love and joy between the couple. It is a form of blessing. A consecration.

It was an honour to officiate Katie and Ryan’s Handfasting Ceremony at the beautiful Askham Hall. Photography credit: Mike Capstick www.edenvalleyphotography.co.uk

 

 

 

I hold the deepest respect for this ancient ritual, and perform it with all the reverence it deserves. For me, it is not a time for making a joke or approaching it as some sort of parlour game. Silence during the wrapping is also paramount. These are sacred cords, based on an ancient tradition, and I respect and admire their place in modern ceremonies.

Mike and Sara’s Handfasting Ceremony at New Dungeon Ghyll

 

About me:

Hi, I’m Veronika Robinson, an independent celebrant (not a humanist, though I’m happy to do a humanist service) and celebrant trainer in rural Cumbria. The ceremony I create for you is based on your beliefs. This means I am not constrained by any belief system or motivated by my own.

 

I’ve officiated all manner of ceremonies, and am as comfortable leading your guests with a religious prayer, as I am with a pagan ritual, angel blessing, or any other expression of deeply held beliefs. Whether you’re looking for a traditional ceremony or something wildly unique, or anywhere in between, I have the skills and experience to meet your wishes.

Determining the nature and feel of a ceremony isn’t as simple as: religious or not religious. Most people have their own hybrid philosophy of life, death, love and living, and as your celebrant I seamlessly weave your beliefs into a ceremony that is enriching, healing and affirming. I am able to do this because I listen clearly and carefully. At all times, my job is to craft a ceremony which belongs to you.

I’ve been an independent celebrant since 1995, and have officiated all manner of ceremonies internationally. My intention is to create, write and officiate deeply meaningful, personalised and beautiful ceremonies for every person I am honoured to serve. I officiate weddings, handfastings, vow renewals, funerals, memorials, naming ceremonies (babies, children, adults who’ve changed their name by deed poll, or transgender), blessingways, parting of the ways (divorce healing), new home/business blessing, fertility invocation, and sagesse ceremonies.

Being a Heart-led celebrant, for me, is a vocation which is founded upon high-level care, compassion, empathy, responsibility and awareness. I am passionate about bringing mindful and holistic celebrancy to the mainstream, and do so through my business Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training where I offer private training to students. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant-training

It is my honour to be the current president of the Association of Independent Celebrants. www.independentcelebrants.co.uk

Ceremonies, when crafted with skill and love, have the ability to be deeply healing. www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant
Please feel free to contact me for an obligation-free chat to see if I’m the right celebrant for your desired ceremony. I work throughout Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Scottish Borders, and overseas. (* Ceremonies more than 30 miles from Carlisle are subject to a mileage fee of 45p a mile after the first 30 miles.)  www.veronikarobinson.com

The Hypocrisy of Humanists performing Handfastings

As a specialist in handfasting ceremonies, I find it hypocritical (at best) and moneymaking (at worst) for humanist celebrants to officiate wedding ceremonies which include the ritual of handfasting.

Why? Firstly, humanists denounce a belief in anything connected to deities. They are, in short, self-identified atheists or agnostics.

A handfasting is a beautiful and ancient sacred tradition whereby the Priestess would preside over the couple’s vows. At this time, the couple would enter into the four sacred vows on their elemental quest.

Their consecrated union was sanctified by the deities who were invoked at this time by the celebrant (Priestess). A handfasting ritual is traditionally conducted in a circle (to represent the eternal), and is rich in symbolism, such as the use of the figure eight during “tying the knot” to symbolise Infinity (since when do humanists believe in life after death?).

The circle of the handfasting rite is based on universal energies (humanists don’t believe in anything outside of the rational, scientific mind), and the magic circle in which it is performed is designated as a ‘Between the Worlds’ space to represent this world and that of the Gods and spirits.

The circle is essentially the ‘Centre of the Universe’ for the purpose of the ceremony, and is the storytelling of the cosmic theme of the love between the Goddess and God: their eternal romance renewed in human lovers. First and foremost, the three cords were made from natural materials and used in the binding of hands to represent (cord one) God/Goddess, (cord two) the bride and (cord three) the groom.

The use of knots and cords is the domain of the world of witches who use them in spellbinding and magic. This is a spiritual belief system rich in symbolism drawn from a deep and profound connection to worlds outside of this one. In Scotland, humanist celebrants can offer handfastings and jumping the broom rituals (another tradition with spiritual origins) in their legal ceremonies. This makes a mockery both of what humanism allegedly stands for, and more importantly: that a sacred tradition is treated as nothing more than some sort of parlour game.

JUMPING THE BROOM

The broom is a symbol of fertility. The handle, made from male wood, is a phallic symbol, while the brush is female. It is used to sweep the ceremonial circle. This is clearly an act of ritualistic purification.

Traditionally, women would ride these brooms around the fields leaping as high as they could! Clearly, the higher they could leap, the higher their crops would grow. The broom was made from different types of wood to do things such as expelling evil spirits (do humanists believe in evil spirits?), and to honour the Moon Goddess (again, where does this fit with humanism?).

At every level of these two rituals do we find an abundance of symbolism that is so far removed from humanism, that it can only beg the question: why are these allowed in Humanist Wedding Ceremonies? I’ve worked in this industry long enough to know that the average person on the street doesn’t know the difference between a humanist celebrant and an independent celebrant any more than the average wedding planner or funeral director has any idea. There is a WORLD of difference.

An independent celebrant caters to her clients’ beliefs whether they are religious, spiritual, agnostic, atheist, or other. A humanist celebrant is someone who doesn’t believe in anything outside of this life. They are NOT, by their own admission, celebrants who conduct ceremonies with religion or spirituality. It seems to me that their desire to make money is interfering with their supposed core values. This is evident in the number of humanist celebrants across the UK who are not only conducting weddings (legal or otherwise) with spiritual rituals, readings and songs, but it’s prevalent in the funeral industry too. I simply can’t understand how a humanist celebrant can agree to conduct a funeral which features the Lord’s Prayer or How Great Thou Art. Or am I missing something?

Guardians of the Threshold

In ancient times, a ceremony was such a significant expression of a rite of passage ~ a life-changing initiation into a new way of life ~ that oftentimes they lasted for days. Such ceremonies were acknowledged by the whole community, and all daily busyness ceased so everyone could witness and participate in the ceremonial rites. At these moments, the mundane matters of daily life no longer mattered. We knew. We simply knew that it was time for our consciousness to be attuned and fully aligned to the story we saw before us. For one person’s story was every person’s story.

These days, the average ceremony (in this culture) can last anywhere from five minutes to about 45 minutes. Generally, they last for twenty minutes or under. There is no timeline for rituals of the heart, but one of the things I’ve learned as a Heart-led Celebrant is that we live in a culture where many people find it hard to let go of daily life and to be fully present at a ceremony. Perhaps they’ve only witnessed church-based or registrar cookie-cutter services and therefore they go into them expecting to be bored (if they’re not invested in religion) or that they’ll hear the same scripts as at previous services. More often than not, wedding guests endure the ceremony so they can get to the bar. Ditto many naming ceremonies. Mourners just want the funeral ‘over with’ not understanding the difference that a beautiful, personalised ceremony can make: it is designed to be deeply healing and affirmative, and not something to be endured.

Where is our ability to simple ‘be’?

As a culture, we have lost touch with how to engage our primordial need for wholeheartedly entering into sacred space and honour rites of passage. We move so quickly, filling our diaries with appointments, and our spare time with TV or social media. Modern life distracts us from our essential self. Our bodies and brains are numbed through dead foods and sugar-laden beverages. Many people are just trying to get through an existence devoid of meaning. How often do people stay in jobs they don’t like in order to keep a mortgage paid up, even though each day they die a little more from spiritual hunger? The same can be said for relationships and other situations. We stay, knowing that a life of compromise is certain death of self.

Attention spans are now notoriously short, so gathering into the stillness for twenty minutes to respectfully honour and celebrate a life, the union of two lovers, or welcoming a child into community is something that we’re not equipped for. We lack the sacred learnings of our people simply because our times have not taught us to embrace what we instinctively feel in our cells: ceremony is a place of storytelling, singing or chanting, healing, transition, and respect for those in the centre of the story. We can sense it at our core ~ that need for something deeper, profound, life changing, but we’re uncomfortable entering into the spirit of it because our culture keeps us distracted from the essential work of navigating our inner terrain. How can we feast on spiritual sustenance when our world keeps us believing famine is our lot? Where is the nourishment to be found when we don’t have space to feed our essential selves?

Heart-led Celebrants are bringing back the essence of what ceremony is about. In my training of Heart-led Celebrants, we look at what ceremony means, not only for the people involved, but also for the celebrant. We understand how important our ongoing commitment to personal growth and protected learning time is because “who we are” is infused into every aspect of our lives, including the writing and officiating of ceremonies.

The journey of healing is something we use to illuminate a person’s way. As Heart-led Celebrants, we are there as Guardians of the Threshold while our ‘client’ makes their way from the old, familiar way of life to their new one, whether it’s a transition they’re undergoing willingly or not.

We are Keepers of the Circle and Holders of the Space with our Word Medicine and consciously choreographed rituals.

Rituals embed messages of wisdom, archetypes and ancient storytelling deep into the human psyche. A ritual isn’t something we use to ‘fill in space’ and stretch out the timing of a ceremony, but is a consciously chosen ‘picture’ in the story we’re giving, and sheds light on the journey our client is undertaking.

I have often seen these checkpoints for what it takes to become a celebrant:

. a computer, printer and access to the Internet
. a phone line
. pen and paper
. car
. Sat Nav
. Accountant (because you’ll be self employed)
. You need to be able to write a ceremony
. You can stand up and deliver said script to audience

While the common requirements to become a celebrant include a checklist which looks like you’re applying for an administrative job (and those skills are necessary), the essentials for becoming a Heart-led Celebrant include:

♥ Deep-level empathy
♥ Thoughtfulness
♥ Intuition
♥ Kindness
♥ Friendliness
♥ Imagination
♥ Creativity
♥ Calmness
♥ Ability to remain composed no matter what’s going on around you
♥ A good storyteller
♥ Serenity
♥ Soothing energy
♥ Unflappable nature (in your work life, at least!)
♥ Ability to relax clients and allow them to feel they’re in safe, confident and competent hands
♥ Groundedness
♥ Excellent listening skills
♥ Rich with ideas
♥ Excellent standard of client service
♥ A mediator
♥ Awareness of self and others
♥ Have experienced grief (if not of a person, at least of some sort of major loss in life)
♥ Can perform rituals meaningfully and with reverence
♥ Courageousness
♥ Confidence
♥ Respects ritual
♥ Ability to stand in silence
♥ Reliable
♥ Energetic
♥ Strong sense of duty
♥ Being willing to serve
♥ Well-articulated voice

♥ And probably the most important of all: they leave ego behind, because although they are Holding the Space, they know that they are not the centre of attention and that the ceremony isn’t about them. They are the spine of the ceremony, not the body.

In her practice, s/he becomes:
♥ A weaver of words
♥ Specialist in ritual
♥ Gatekeeper of silence
♥ Energy Curious and Aware
♥ A chameleon: she matches her energy to her clients
♥ Explorer and pioneer of inner terrain: always seeking new horizons and landscapes

A Heart-led Celebrant lives a life of ceremony infused with daily rituals and awareness of stillness, reverence and commitment to engaging with soul nourishment. It would be impossible to be the Guardian of the Threshold for others if we weren’t able to do it for ourselves.

© Veronika Sophia Robinson
Founder and facilitator, Heart-led Ceremonies Celebrant Training
www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant-training

Co-Creative Celebrant Training

Training students to be Heart-led Celebrants is, in some ways, a bit like the variety to be found in the life of a working celebrant. Just as every ceremony is different and unique, so too are my students. While I am aware of all the material we need to cover during their time with me, the direction and depth of the course will depend entirely on what the student brings to the training.

 

 

The landscape, or, in some cases, seascape, depending on how many tears are shed, that we travel together will be as rich, diverse and varied as a person’s life history. The stories that are shared become part of the training time, and can determine the ground we walk upon.

 

What I do know is that with almost every student, tears have been shed. Most of us have grief stories to tell. Indeed, I would say that almost all students who have come to me for heart-led celebrancy training have done so because of one of their grief stories giving them a change of direction in life. They have a deep need for something more in their life, and to put out something meaningful into this world. And sometimes, I have students come primarily for wedding training but soon find themselves embracing funeral work wholeheartedly.

Although I receive a booking form from my students where I try to glean some information about them and their life before they come, I really have no idea until they walk through my door just who I’ll be sitting with for two or five days. It’s as much of an exploratory journey and transformation for me as it is for them. Our days together are long, intense and indepth, and they explore the cornerstones of heart-led celebrancy: listening, building sacred connections, community, communications, creativity, craft/skill, creating, building, writing, performing and storytelling. (*and being self-employed/running one’s own business/marketing etc.)

What a student gets out of their training is as much about what they put into it (ability to tackle exercises given to them, willingness to listen, etc.) as is the sharing of my experiences.

As I come to the end of this year’s training, with just two students left to complete their training before Christmas, I can’t help but reflect on what an incredible and busy year it has been training people to be Heart-led Celebrants. Students have travelled from as far as Spain, Scotland, Hampshire, Devon, and closer to home, here in Cumbria. Each of them has something quite incredible to offer their local community, and it is with joy that I feel this network of truly heart-led, empathic celebrants growing. And for this, I truly give thanks. ~ Veronika

,

Where Have All The Good Men Gone?

Do you remember that power ballad by Bonnie Tyler called Holding Out For a Hero? She sings ‘where have all the good men gone?’ Those lyrics went through my head as I lay awake most of last night and the night before, tossing and turning like a volatile tornado ripping through buildings.

One of the many things I try to do as a celebrant is foster a sense of calm within myself so that no matter what is happening around me, I can create a space for others that encircles and helps them to feel like they’re in a safe space for the ceremony. Within my personal life, I augment this with plenty of solitude, walks in the woods, and quiet time/meditation. And yet, for the past few days I’ve felt nothing but turbulence rocketing through my underworld. Ghosts that I’d thought were long laid to rest came hurtling up, and I found myself raging (in an internal, ‘keep it to yourself like a good girl’ sort of way) in a manner that quite terrified me. The truth is that no matter how much we reach towards the light, personally and professionally, we each have within us a ‘darkness’. Denial of that is one of the greatest toxins we face.

My deepest nurturing comes in the silence, and I’ve sure needed that these past few days. I remind myself that endarkenment, surely, is just as essential as enlightenment. Light and Dark. Day and Night. Yin and Yang. Black and White.

It was a lazy Sunday morning when I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed to see my younger daughter’s blog:

http://elizaserenarobinson.com/the-hardest-story-to-tell/

(note: many acts/offences have been removed from when this blog post was first published, but what remains gives a clear picture of what she endured)

I read it slowly, the fear rising far more quickly than the speed with which my eyes travelled across the screen.

I wanted to scream.

I wanted to kill.

Me, the pacifist!

How f****** dare he?!

I wanted to kill him, and I wanted to kill every man who’d ever violated me in my lifetime.

And while I was at it: all the men who’ve ever violated women since the dawn of Mankind (where did the ‘kind’ originate from?) People mutter about too many women getting on the #metoo bandwagon. They’re on there for a damn good reason! Let them have their voice. Shout it from the rooftops. We can’t change things if we don’t speak up.

 

I was undone. All calmness and serenity vacated. Where was all this anger coming from? I shocked myself with the poison bubbling through my bloodstream. I thought I’d laid this shit to rest years ago. In fact, I remember the defining moment when Graham (a wonderful New Thought Minister and friend I worked with at the time ~ and the only man, up until then, that I’d ever trusted) said “Veronika, you’ve got to stop believing all men are bastards if you want to see something different show up in your life.”

It was like a massive laser light turned on.

He was right. It was so obvious. However, I’d spent about twenty five years of my life with that constant little mantra running through my head “all men are bastards”.

Why would I have such a thought? My dad mostly worked overseas so I rarely got to see him (and he never abused me), but there were men constantly in my life that, over and over again, did sexually violate me. The first incident (at least I presume it was the first) was when I came home from kindergarten (aged three) telling my mother of something a male staff member did to me. I have NO memory of this at all. What I do know is that my mother said that when she approached the kindergarten they unceremoniously sent her away saying ‘nothing like that would happen here’. I guess that was my first experience of ‘not being heard’. That what happened to me ‘didn’t matter’.

 

I had an experience a few weeks ago, just after I moved into a place on my own, when a well-known womaniser in our community sent me a message asking for ‘coffee and counselling’. Said man has a long-term partner. I recommended a counsellor, and suggested he get coffee at Costa, to which he replied “Yeah, but the staff at Costa don’t have breasts like yours!” I erased his toxicity from my phone, and blocked him from messaging me, but now I wonder if I should have screenshot the message to put on his Facebook timeline or sent it to his girlfriend. Might have cured him from doing it to anyone else! By keeping quiet, I simply perpetuate his need and greed to have ‘anything that moves’.

 

I’ve had a couple of creepy men try to come on to me in the past few years, saying inappropriate things, but other than those incidents I’ve been lucky enough to have avoided any such thing since I ‘woke up’ to my belief system. Maybe wearing a wedding band for all those years was also big boundary. I don’t know.

 

I’ll spare you a lifetime of incidents that I do remember. You’d be reading for hours! My point is this: my life showed me what I came to know as true; that all men were bastards.

 

But I’m fifty years of age now, and I also know this to be true: there are some damn fine men in this world. Men who are good, kind, honest, sincere, wonderful, and deserve to be celebrated. Such examples are:

. One of my closest friends who helped me through one of the darkest times in my life, and once again proved to me that men are capable of integrity, kindness, compassion and a listening ear

. The father of my children, and husband, who walked by my side for twenty three years, and continues (despite our recent separation), to be a source of honesty, kindness and solidity

. My brother

. Men whose ceremonies I’ve officiated

. Husbands of my female friends

. Men I’ve met over the years when I was publishing The Mother magazine

And of course there are men I’ll never meet that I know to be filled with integrity.

The world is FILLED with wonderful men. Men who make a difference. Men who love openheartedly. Men who are kind. Men who feel ill at the thought of those other men who smear the reputation of their gender.

 

Of all the things I was so sure of doing ‘right’ when I became a parent ~ a job I wanted to do as consciously and open-heartedly as possible ~ was to protect my daughters from sexual abuse (well, any abuse). I knew with 100% certainty that it would NEVER happen at the hands of their father. I had absolute faith in this, and never felt unsafe leaving them alone with him. I also, by then, had a bloody good radar for ‘men’ and could pick out a ‘violator’ a mile away. I remember feeling distinctly ill seeing a picture of Jimmy Saville long before his revelations came out.

The one and only time my girls ever had a babysitter was when I left them for a few hours with my best friend, Pam. As a homeschooling mother, they were always under my protective wing. When they both became adults, I naively prided myself on the fact that our daughters made it through childhood free of the guilt, shame and destruction of sexual abuse. Job bloody well done! Go me! Of all the things I may not have done well in parenting, this was one where I scored top marks. Or, so I thought.

Despite the few ‘dodgy’ (to put it kindly) men in my bloodline (aggh), I felt that the pattern of abuse had been cut. My husband, too, had experienced abuse, so this felt like two family lines had been healed.

But what I hadn’t counted on was that when there is such torment it can take more than one generation to heal. Wounds run so deep at a cellular level.

I lay awake questioning every aspect of my parenting. But why the hell am I taking on this cloak of guilt because my beautiful, authentic daughters were highly attractive, energetically, to narcissistic types?

 

What could I have done differently? I don’t have the answers. All I can do, right now, is remind them that there ARE good men in the world. There have always been good men in the world. And that when we see such men, we tell them. We tell them every damn day. We remind them of their worth. We light their path with words of praise. And we let them know it is safe to keep shining their beautiful light. We don’t drag them down. We don’t herd them up with those other men.

The world sure needs more good men, but this won’t happen when we keep saying they’re all bastards. Yeah, let’s slam the patriarchy, for sure, but let’s be clear about what we’re trying to create. Is a matriarchal culture the answer? No, what we’re wanting, collectively, is to feel a balance. A Dance of the Divine Lovers. A wholesome blending of feminine and masculine energies.

 

My best advice for my daughters (for any woman or man) is this: if a relationship of any description doesn’t make you feel good, DON’T STAY IN IT. Don’t make excuses. Don’t justify. Don’t put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. And for godsake, don’t use that excuse of ‘staying for the children’. Because what the hell does that teach? That we don’t value ourselves? That a shit relationship is better than no relationship? Children energetically feel EVERYTHING in our relationships. They aren’t nourished by parents who stay together when they want to be apart or that destroy each other every day in little and large ways.

This one precious life is short. Way too short. It’s gone in a flash. Savour it. Love it. Love yourself enough to say ‘no’ to people who hurt you.

 

Bonnie Tyler sings: “Late at night I toss and turn, and I dream of what I need. I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night. He’s gotta be strong.”

 

NOOOOO. Be your own hero. Know your boundaries. Know who you are. Celebrate every part of yourself. The right person will love your bumps and bruises and honour you, and not put you down. Not pat you on the head and diminish your intellect, emotions, sexuality, body, morals, beauty or any other thing. He will raise you up. But first, sisters, we have to raise ourselves. No one else can do this job for us. We have to do it, and we have to do it daily.

Make it a daily practice to bring more beauty into your life. Why? Because when beauty is around us, we’re quick to identify anything that’s ugly. Ugly energy won’t stand a chance of coming into our orbit for long. We’ll not tolerate its vibration. This is one of the reasons I constantly surround myself with flowers. They align me to what ‘feels good and beautiful and true’. Flowers are ALWAYS authentic.

When our boundaries are strong and high, we know then that only the most sincere, kind, honest, thoughtful people will cross that threshold (male or female), for they will be the only ones worthy enough to walk that sacred path to our heart, mind and body. Only then.

,

High-Vibrational Living

 

As we descend into the darker days and nights here in the Northern Hemisphere, that tendency to go into hibernation mode is amplified. If ever there’s a word for change, it’s Autumn.

 

The expansive vibrance of long, stretched-out Summer days and evenings has now long waned into the Turn of the Wheel… How do we trust this change? How do we carry the high enlivening energies of Summer into the impending darkness?

Around me the apples and pears are being harvested, the hedgerows beckon with their gifts of sloes, rosehips and blackberries. I even picked raspberries this morning!

 

Above the ground, the leaves have faded and fallen, but out of our sight, the roots grow strong, deeper, doing their work for next Spring.

The chilly wind, the heady scent of the damp earth as I tread lightly upon the woodland floor, the familiar smell of bonfires at twilight, and the darkening nights ~ these all draw me into the centre of myself. They urge me to go inwards.

Mother Earth is always my first port of call when it comes to healing, nourishment and learning about life’s lessons. I open my heart to Her, waiting for whispers of wisdom for how I can balance my inner life with my outer work in the world. How do I nourish myself so that I’m able to be of service? Despite the chill in the air, I still open my windows and let her gentle breezes go through my home and heart so that I can take Her with me as I step into the dream-time part of the year. I do so knowing that I take the awareness of the thought-seeds I’ve planted, and what I might hope to witness blossoming when I arise from the other side of Winter. I don’t do this lightly.

As a barefoot gardener, I’m well versed in the understanding that we must learn to trust the seeds we plant. We can’t keep opening up the soil to see if the seeds have germinated. Trust. Patience. Care. These are the watchwords of growth.

 

Our sacred self always has the ability to grow, but it needs the right environment. How commonly the media uses Springtime to launch its articles and programmes about detoxing, but this seems counterintuitive to me. Spring is a time of growth! Autumn, now there’s a season to teach us about letting go of what no longer serves us.

 

Leaving behind our sorrows, rage, regrets, anger, disappointments and betrayals at the door of the descent into the Underworld of Autumn and Winter, allows us to remove the heavy cloak of burden and pain so that we can unfurl, release, and then prepare to spiral into the highest version of ourselves. Tell Mother Earth of your burdens, and let them go!

Learn to trust yourself, and daily ask:

 

What brings me more energy?

What sustains me?

What are my deepest pleasures and joys? Do I allow these into my life?

What raises my vibration to a higher frequency?

 

For myself, these are questions I can answer easily. Maybe it’s because I know myself well and I’m not afraid to meet these needs, or maybe it’s based on years of experience.

. Flowers

. Sunshine

. Hot showers

. Jasmine oil

. Incense (Nag Champa)

. Walking in the woods

. Long hot baths by candlelight

. Moon bathing

. Reading

. Music

. Carefully chosen company

. Solitude

. Birdsong

. Rain on the roof

. Mangoes (if they’re truly ripe)

. Laughing

. Meditating

. Drinking spring water

. Writing in my gratitude journal (both things that I already have, and those I wish to have/be/experience)

. Being massaged

. Swimming

 

But equally, I have also learnt (often the hard way) what lowers my vibration. Choosing to minimise these as much as possible ensures that I am able to live at a higher-vibrational frequency on a consistent basis. It means honouring myself, first and foremost, and sometimes this can mean disappointing others.

 

. cigarette smoke

. gossips

. perpetually negative people

. the news

. two-faced people

. tabloids

. heavy metal or rap music

. horrible smells

. cruelty/bullies

. ugly views

. arguments

 

So, fill your days and evenings with pleasures. Don’t be afraid to turn off the TV and write in your journal, listen to your favourite music, sip hot chocolate by the fire, sleep in on a day off, or dance beneath the Moon. Do what makes your heart sing, for surely the more happy hearts there are in this world, the closer we become to world peace.

 

May your journey through Autumn and into Winter be filled with the realisation of what you have to let go of (people, places, beliefs or things), and replaced with joy, self-love and laughter.

 

 

 

With Christmas approaching, I often see an increase in book sales. If you’re wanting to purchase books directly from my website, can you do so before December to allow plenty of time for Royal Mail to deal with the Christmas rush, and also to ensure I can get new shipments in time in case I run out of any titles? As usual, I’m happy to sign all books and write dedications with the wording of your choice.

 

For anyone who has been contemplating doing Celebrant Training with me, I’m pleased to say I now offer a five-day training course for a Certificate in Advanced Celebrancy and Ritual as well as the two-day training for a Certificate in Celebrancy.

These are both done at my cottage in Wreay, near Carlisle. (easy access off the M6).

Keep warm!

Veronika xxxxxxxxxx