There are times for all of us when something happens to change the direction of our life. A death, a birth, a marriage, a commitment, a separation, or even the transition from childhood into the adult world. These times can be difficult, wonderful, heart-rending or uplifting. Whatever the feelings, they are important moments and to mark them with a special ceremony is a way of giving outward expression to our feelings while also helping to open a pathway that can take us through the transition. The anthropologist Arnold van Gennep called these ceremonies the Rites of Passage and they appear, in different shape and form, in all cultures across the world. Not all places, though, are fortunate enough to have the freedom we have in Australia to create personalised ceremonies and rituals that reflect the individual beliefs, experience and personalities of the people involved. For some, this means very simple and straightforward ceremonies, while for others it can be very complex and multi-layered.
As a celebrant, I consider it a great privilege to be able to help people design and develop ceremonies that are just right for them. I first applied to become a marriage celebrant in the early 90s but no more were being appointed at that time in the North East of Victoria. I began work as a funeral and naming celebrant in 2000 and when the legislation changed to allow for more marriage celebrants to be appointed, I undertook and completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Civil Ceremonies through Monash University, and was subsequently appointed as a marriage celebrant in 2008. It had been a long wait, but a worthwhile one. I love this work, and it is wonderful to be able to share these special moments with people.
Areas Covered: Wangaratta, Beechworth, Myrtleford, Benalla, Yarrawonga, Mulwala, Stanley, Yackandandah, Bright, Chiltern, Milawa, Oxley, Peechelba, High Country, North East Victoria. Will travel to other areas at additional cost.
There are many different options for having a personalised wedding. It can be conducted anywhere in Australia providing there is space for the bride and groom, the celebrant, and two adult witnesses. You can include whatever poetry, readings, prayers, music and symbols you like. The most important part of the ceremony is the exchange of vows, where you tell each other how you feel and make your promises. The vows must fulfil the requirements of Australian law, and your celebrant will explain this further, but within those guidelines you can incorporate whatever words best express what you want to say.
For different reasons, some couples do not wish to get married or are unable to do so. They can still have a ceremony in which they declare their love and their commitment before family and friends and, although it does not have the legal implications of the marriage ceremony, it can be equally as binding in the emotional and spiritual sense.
The Celtic tradition of handfasting is a commitment ceremony (can also be incorporated into a marriage ceremony) which involves binding the couple together with a chord or a ribbon tied around their wrists – literally ‘tying the knot’. Some people use the handfasting to make a commitment for a year and a day, and at the end of that time decide whether to renew their vows for another similar period, or make it a permanent commitment, or go their separate ways. In Ireland, this ritual took effect at the autumnal harvest feast, then called Lughnasadh, when eligible young people chose someone with whom they would like to share the winter months – which could be a true test of their relationship. In modern days, it is often done at the start of the summer months, as a time when love is ripening.
All societies have their own rituals for welcoming the newborn. The giving of a name, the bestowal of blessings, the selection of godparents/mentors/guides, and the giving of gifts are all ways of recognizing how important this child is to all of us. Many people no longer have a particular affiliation to any religious group but they still want to mark the significance of their child’s arrival in this world and make sure the child is given a place in the community. In our contemporary world, there is greater choice than ever for the ways we choose to celebrate such occasions. Some choose a Home Christening, or a Celtic saining, while others prefer an earth-centred ceremony or one with a distinctly Australian flavour, or which combines different cultural traditions. Whatever best suits you and your child.
There are a lot of pressures on relationships and, despite the best intentions, some relationships do not go the distance. This can be a very difficult time for all involved, especially for any children of the relationship, and a ceremony can help to make the transition from one way of life to another in a very positive sense. Such ceremonies need to be tailored very carefully to the individual situation. In the best scenario, each of the parties can be present to honour the time together, sever the ties in a respectful manner, and reaffirm their commitment to the wellbeing of the children. In more difficult separations, it may be a singular ceremony with the emphasis on cutting ties and moving on.
Funerals are about saying goodbye to people who have played a large part in our lives, whether as family or friend. We need to take some time aside to demonstrate our respect, to honour their life, and bid farewell. A good funeral reflects the individual personality of your loved one, with their own interests and beliefs woven into the ceremony. It’s not an easy time but it can be very special if it expresses everything you need to say and all that you feel about the one who has passed away. (Roxanne came to this work through her own experience of grief, and funeral celebrancy is work that is very dear to her heart. She firmly believes in people’s right to say goodbye in their own way.)
The transition from child to adult is fraught with a myriad of challenges for the young person to negotiate, including the physical changes of puberty. Ritualising this process can help to make sense of it, providing the young person with a clearer focus and direction as well as helping those around to recognise the changes they have made. These individualised ceremonies draw upon cultural traditions and mesh them with the modern-day experience.