Beth has a joyful heart, beating a dance I want to get swept up in every day.
Rachel is my best friend. She brings so much happiness in my life. I can’t wait to explore the world with her by my side.
Rachel & Beth
When Rachel proposed to Beth in the middle of a darkwave goth gig two months into their relationship she was being serious. These two creative, funny, kind, and – by their own admission – eccentric souls had an instant connection and knew that they wanted to share their lives together.
So, it was wonderful that, after a year of planning and what felt like endless shifting sands (due to the global pandemic), Rachel and Beth were finally able to go ahead with their Civil Life Partnership ceremony. On a crisp, clear autumnal day, a close circle of their family and friends gathered by St. Anthony’s Chapel on Arthur’s Seat in the heart of Edinburgh.
Beth’s family joined us on Zoom and, during the ceremony, we heard some words from Beth’s mum and maid-of-honour, all the way from Australia.
In a personal and emotional exchange of vows, Rachel and Beth made their promises to each other overlooking the city that means so much to them both. There wasn’t a dry eye on the hill.
They sealed their Life Partnership Vows with a Handfasting, the gold and white ribbons symbolising the brightness of the day. It was glorious.
Beth and Rachel, thank you for trusting me with your ceremony. I absolutely loved being your celebrant. Wishing you so much love and all the witchy happiness you could wish for in your lives together.
Thank you to friend of the family, Jono (Paul Johnson), for the gorgeous photos.
Charlotte and Andrew’s Wedding at the stunning Colstoun House was a day of love, togetherness, family and friends.
With their beautiful rescue dog, Goose, and an intimate circle of their closest family and friends, Andrew and Charlotte gathered in the gloriously autumnal Colstoun polytunnel.
Their wider circle of family and friends joined the celebrations on Zoom. We successfully managed to shrink the geographical distances so that everyone felt an important and connected part of the ceremony.
Two friends described, over Zoom, the hilarious story of how Charlotte and Andrew first met (it was all thanks to a pair of size 9 trainers).
Then Charlotte and Andrew shared the secret reasons why they love one another, to much laughter and happy tears.
They exchanged personal ‘toasts to each other’ that they had written especially for their ceremony.
Then shared joint vows before exchanging wedding rings.
I love you more than I did yesterday.
A friend read, in Gaelic, an Irish poem she had written for Charlotte and Andrew. And the gathering cheered as the newly-married couple made their way into the sunshine.
Plans might not have unfolded according to Charlotte and Andrew’s original wishes (given all that is going on in the world) but everything about this vibrant, joyful, love-filled day was perfect.
Charlotte and Andrew, wishing you so many heartfelt congratulations. Thank you so much for trusting me with your ceremony. I’ve loved every minute of being your celebrant.
We will stay together through tears & laughter, because that’s what they call happily ever after.
Ashley & Tom
What an honour it was to be part of Ashley and Tom’s fairytale wedding at the sumptuous Prestonfield House in October. The sun shone, the leaves glowed with autumnal light, and the day was magical.
In an intimate ceremony with their close family as witnesses, Tom and Ashley shared the secret reasons why they love one another, and exchanged personal vows and rings. It was a ceremony filled with laughter and happy tears, made even more poignant by months of shifting plans and uncertainty leading up to their wedding date.
Ashley and Tom, I’m so delighted for you that you were able to go ahead with your plans despite all that is going on in the world just now. What a beautiful day! Thank you for inviting me to be your celebrant. Wishing you both so much love in the years to come with many more magical moments and fairytale adventures in your lives together.
Thanks also to Mark at North Hold Photography for these stunning photos, and Matt at Willoughby Films for Tom and Ashley’s awesome highlight film, and Alan, Kirsty, Cameron and the always-so-welcoming events team at Prestonfield House. It was a great pleasure spending time with you all.
“The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fibre and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.”
Gorgeous fun at Yellowcraig Beach in East Lothian. Nicholas and Catherine exchanged vows and rings overlooking Fidra Lighthouse and the Bass Rock with their close family as their witnesses. It was the perfect place for these two individuals who have a passion for nature, the countryside and the coast to choose to celebrate their wedding.
The small group of Catherine and Nicholas’s close family represented several different beliefs and denominations. And so it was wonderful to be able to lead a ceremony that fully respected their individual beliefs, values and wishes.
The sun shone, there was plenty of wind to keep the barefoot bride’s wee nephew happy as his kite flew high in the sky, and the newlyweds toasted this most momentous of ‘outings’ with a fabulous Orcadian tradition.
Ordinarily, in an Orcadian wedding, the couple would take a first sip from the Wedding Cog and then offer it around the gathering to anyone who wishes to partake, in a sunwise direction. Today, the sharing of drinks was saved for the party – planned as soon as restrictions ease. Instead, Nicholas and Catherine took their first sip as newlyweds, facing the sun, to honour the beginning of this next stage of their journey together. It was glorious.
Heartfelt congratulations Catherine and Nicholas. It was my great pleasure to be with you as your Marriage Celebrant. May you have many wonderful adventures in the years to come with endless slow travel missions, plenty of ‘outings’ and all the happiness you could wish for.
I had the great honour of being Magdalena and Struan’s wedding celebrant on a blustery day in August. These two creative, wonderful souls were married on the shores of Dunsapie Loch in the heart of Edinburgh – overlooking the city where their love had blossomed.
Their ceremony was gorgeous, emotional, unique and joyful. An intimate circle of Magdalena and Struan’s dearest friends and family gathered together to witness their loving commitments. Struan’s mum wove everyone into the gathering with resonant notes from her two gorgeous singing bowls, and everyone was invited to send a blessing, thought or prayer to the couple.
Struan and Magdalena exchanged beautiful personal vows that they had written for each other. It was an incredibly moving moment for this couple who have been through so much together, and who finally – after months of shifting plans – were able to go ahead with their ceremony.
I found home within your eyes.
You are my harbour, where I return.
I promise to be your pillar when your world is shaken,
And your beacon when the light of our life is dim.
They tied their own perfect handfasting knot, the coloured ribbons symbolising the coming together of two countries – Scotland and Poland – as well as two people.
Promises were sealed with a sip of whisky from the Quaich and everyone toasted the newlyweds with a swig from their miniature whisky bottles. The ceremony closed to an ebullient chorus of “Na Zdrowie!” and “Slàinte mhath!” A glorious day!
Struan and Magdalena, it was my great honour to be with you in that beautifully windswept and glorious place to witness and celebrate your marriage to one another. In the words of your wedding toast:
I wish you health, happiness, love and life.
Thank you for sharing your stunning photos. And thank you to the lovely and super-talented, Bernadeta Kupiec, for doing such an amazing job in capturing the feel of the day.
“Andy and Gillian believe the key to a happy life together is understanding that happiness comes from inner peace. The happiness we create as individuals enhances the life of those close to us. For Gillian and Andy, the key to a happy life is kindness – in words and actions. It is patience, communication, compassion, gratitude for life – for each other and the simple things. It is about being present and making time for one another, supporting each other through the good times and bad, giving each other space for individuality and independence. And most of all, the key to a happy life is laughing together always.”
I haven’t stopped smiling since today’s ceremony. Gillian and Andy exchanged vows overlooking the sea, surrounded by stunning flowers, with their closest family as witnesses. This generous, sunset-chasing, sea-faring, adventure-loving couple had already postponed their wedding plans a couple of times, and yet today’s ceremony felt as though it was always meant to be. The sun shone (despite the yellow warnings for rain), tears flowed, laughter rippled, and love bloomed.
Marriage promises were sealed with a bespoke handfasting ritual, and a shared drink from a gorgeous handmade quaich. Andy chose a drop of golden Cornish rum and Gillian a drop of Scotland’s finest whisky – a potent mix to honour their shared heritage – the perfect first toast as husband and wife.
They then hoisted their very own flag to mark the next stage in their journey of life.
Wishing you many years of love and laughter and a thousand blessings in your life together, Gillian and Andy. I am so happy that your long-awaited ceremony was everything you had hoped it would be. To use one of your Granny T’s much-loved expressions, “Love wins the day!”
Two days ago we said goodbye to a dear extended family member, our much-loved dwarf lop rabbit. She was six years old and her ailment was unexpected and sudden.
I did not wake up that morning considering that it would be the day I agreed to end the life of our rabbit. We had no reason to believe she was seriously ill. At worst, we assumed, she might need antibiotics.
Being told by the vets that they were unable to heal our rabbit was a shock. Being asked if I would consent to euthanise her, was something I had not even contemplated before the point of being asked. And yet, less than two hours after being given the choice, after calling my husband and two children, I consented to euthanising her.
Choosing to let our beloved rabbit go peacefully into her final sleep was the right thing to do. Had she lived longer, she would have suffered horribly. Instead, she died calmly, with her bonded partner close by, soothed by the reassuring touch of a human she trusted.
We gave her bonded partner time to come to terms with her death, then lay our rabbit friend to rest with a loving, unscripted ritual in our garden. It was a beautiful, flower-blessed ending to a fulfilling life.
I’ve since been unable to stop thinking about the ease with which I was allowed to make that necessary decision. And the lack of control we humans have over our own deaths, should we face the same sudden terminal prognosis.
As someone who has lost both parents and an aunt to cancer, and witnessed the anguished endings that can bring, I know with absolute certainty that I would far rather choose to drift into my final sleep, surrounded by my family. I would far rather gift my loved ones the chance to say their goodbyes with strong hearts untainted by final memories they wish they could forget.
I have always wholeheartedly supported the Dignity in Dying campaign. Today, I have signed up as a member. Discover their important work here: https://www.dignityindying.org.uk
In a time when almost every newspaper headline makes for stark reading, it is heartwarming to be hearing from couples planning their wedding ceremonies during 2020-2022.
Admittedly, there have been some moments of dark humour though in our ceremony-planning conversations:
“We could have themed face masks!”
“How about hats or fascinators with 2-metres long feathers?”
“Well obviously the Quaich can’t be passed around… the invite would have to read ‘Join us for a Covid-19 party’”
Jokes aside, it is worth spending a bit of time considering how we might need to adapt ceremony plans in the coming months. It is absolutely possible to get creative and look forward to a magical day despite the surreal times we are living through.
Government guidelines will continue to detail the numbers of guests that will be allowed to attend ceremonies as the marriage licence suspension is lifted. It is likely that the numbers will vary during the different phases of Covid-19 restrictions being rolled out. Currently the Government advice for Phase 3, from 15th July, is:
We are advising that no more than 20 people should attend a marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration, provided they can safely be accommodated with physical distancing in the venue. This suggested maximum includes all those at the ceremony, including the couple, the celebrant, the witnesses, any interpreter and guests. It also includes any carers accompanying an attendee. It includes as well any staff who are not employed by the venue, such as a photographer, musicians or others a couple has employed for the purpose of the ceremony or registration.
As the virus hopefully becomes more controlled, and as we progress through the Government Phases for Covid-19 containment, we hope that more guests may be allowed at each gathering.
As Celebrants, we will have a responsibility to follow the Government legislation around numbers attending and as such, it is important to ensure that your plans reflect the Government guidelines and legislation (we have included links below). Planning for all scenarios will help manage the expectations and emotions for those involved (yours included!). Whilst you might be hoping to invite all your friends and family for a love-filled joyful gathering, it’s worth considering what you will do and how you would feel if you are limited to say 8, 20, or 50 guests.
There is a different kind of beauty in an intimate wedding or elopement. So, whilst it might feel a huge shift from your original plans, it could reassure you to check out the photos and read the blogs of people who are involved in creating intimate weddings and elopements, or who have experienced one themselves. We have links to useful sites and articles at the end of this blogpost.
Given the evolving and hard-to-predict guidelines around numbers of guests being allowed at gatherings, considering all scenarios at the outset could help you feel more relaxed when looking ahead to your ceremony.
It is a possibility that all guests (from different household groups) will be expected to physical distance and stay 2-metres apart for the foreseeable future. As such, we would encourage you to discuss this at the outset with the event manager at your chosen venue. This will help to ensure that you feel relaxed about how your important day will unfold and you won’t be disappointed if harsh restrictions on numbers and physical distancing are enforced. It’s always important to feel good about your Plan B.
Of course, if everyone is being asked to physical distance at gatherings then that will include your Celebrant. There may be some aspects of your ceremony that might need to be adjusted to account for this – such as rituals (see below).
We weren’t joking about themed face masks. At the moment, the Government guidelines recommend the wearing of face masks at indoor gatherings where space is limited. Of course, by the time the marriage licence suspension is fully lifted there is the possibility that all wedding guests might be able to get tested for Covid-19 prior to attending, or that a test, track and trace programme will be fully underway and completely reliable. It’s possible to get creative. It is also important to understand face mask safety – you can find the World Health Organisation Guidance here.
There are some beautiful material face masks being made by local businesses and crafters. You will find some links under this blog. Masks are likely to be a part of our world for the next year or so, and perhaps might seem less alien to us once we are all used to seeing each other wearing them.
Songs and hymns
Sadly, we know from the devastating effect of church gatherings and choirs around the world that singing together is a sure way to optimise the spread of the virus. Even with the wearing of masks, this might be something to consider replacing in your ceremony. You could play music, read poetry or extracts from your favourite books instead. We are always happy to offer suggestions and help you find the perfect elements for your ceremony.
Traditionally, during a Quaich Ceremony, the newly married couple would each take a drink from the shared cup of love to symbolise their union and to toast their future together. The cup might then be passed around the gathering for all present to take a sip and share in the toast to the couple. It is clear that it will be unlikely that the passing of the Quaich among guests is recommended during the current pandemic.
Current guidance from the Scottish Government is that no food or drink should be consumed within the ceremony. We are seeking advice on whether it is possible for couples to enjoy this ritual without the sharing of the cup among family and friends. The toast could be limited to the couple and the words of the ritual adjusted accordingly. It might be that everyone present is invited to join in with the words of the toast, or to take a moment to wish the couple well by sending a thought, wish, blessing or prayer their way. We will update this blog as soon as we hear.
A Handfasting Ceremony is a gorgeous ritual and a wonderful Celtic tradition. As Celebrants, we are often asked to include a Handfasting in Wedding and Life-Partnership Ceremonies. Whilst it is usually the Celebrant that places the cords or ribbons on the hands of the couple, and the Celebrant who ties the knots as a symbolic act of sealing the vows of the couple, this may not be possible with physical distancing measures in place.
If you are planning a Handfasting as part of your ceremony, it is possible to adapt the ceremony so that you can tie your own knot, or use the fabric wound around your hands as a symbol of betrothal or binding. Or you could consider who among your immediate family – people you are already mixing with – could step in for the Celebrant to place the cords and tie the knots. This is something that some couples already choose – they might have a relative they wish to ask to be the one who seals their vows – and it works well. We will guide you, of course, and the person fulfilling this role to ensure that you are all confident about how to perform this beautiful ritual.
Many couples choose this gorgeous ritual as part of their ceremony. The commitment bands are tied to a piece or ribbon or cord and, during the ceremony, are passed from guest to guest. The Celebrant will have invited each guest to take a moment when the rings reach them to offer a blessing, thought or prayer for the couple. That way, when the rings make their way to the front for the exchange of rings between the couple, they are imbued with all the good wishes and feelings of their family and friends.
There’s no getting around that this is not likely to be possible during the pandemic given the limitations on contact and avoiding touching the same surfaces as others. However, there are other ways that this well-wishing by the couple’s family and friends can be included in the ceremony. For example, the Celebrant might invite all present to take a moment during the ceremony to send a thought, blessing, or prayer towards the couple just before the couple exchange rings.
Signing of the Register
After the newly-married couple are declared legally married, it is a legal requirement that the Marriage Schedule be signed by the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses. Usually, the Celebrant would provide a black ink fountain pen for this purpose. This is important as the type of ink used is a Registry Office requirement.
Given the likely restrictions on sharing items, touching the same surfaces as others, every person signing the document has to use a separate pen, or the pens must be wiped clean between uses. In this scenario, the individuals can either bring their own pens, or the Celebrant can provide all the pens then bag and clean them after the ceremony.
It is going to feel strange not being able to hug those around us at such a poignant and joyful time. We will all need to adapt to showing our love and appreciation in other ways. There are beautiful rituals that can do this – rituals that can show the couple how much everyone present cares for them, and that involve all the gathering in a meaningful and shared moment.
There are many varied rituals that can be adapted to suit the personality and wishes of the couple involved. One such ritual might involve inviting everyone who attends to bring a ‘symbolic hug’ with them to put in the hug jar. These ‘symbolic hugs’ could be tokens such as shells, buttons, feathers. The couple then have the pleasure in the weeks following the ceremony of working out which hug belonged to which guest.
The inclusion of visualisations or guided meditations can also be a powerful way of involving everyone in the gathering. Simply inviting all present to place their hand on their heart and consider the future of the couple then send a loving thought their way is incredibly powerful.
The Oathing Stone ritual is another poignant way of including everyone at the ceremony. This works especially well for outdoor ceremonies. The guests are given a stone on arrival at the ceremony. They are invited to hold them whilst the vows are being made and recognise their relationship with the couple. Just before the wedding vows are made they are invited to send their warm wishes, thoughts and prayers for the couple as they hold the stone. Following the ceremony the couple invite their guests to throw the stones in nearby water such as a river or lake and send blessings. Blessings made near water have been thought to be more binding.
An alternative to this is for the stones to be placed in a container such as a glass vase or a bowl which the couple take home to remind them of the good wishes of their guests. Another is for the stones to be placed together in a cairn on the ground when the ceremony is outside.
As Celebrants, we can help you create a beautiful, unique and meaningful ceremony despite all that is going on in the world at this time. The most important thing is to remember that whilst your ceremony may have been postponed just now, your love for each other continues to grow stronger.
Current Government guidance for indoor and outdoor gatherings pre- or post- ceremony are:
In Phase 3 you can meet and take part in outdoor recreation with people from up to 4 other households at a time. You should meet in small numbers – no more than 15 people in total at a time.
In Phase 3 you can meet people from up to 2 other households at a time indoors. You must stay at least 2 metres apart from people from other households at all times. For this reason you should meet in small numbers so that physical distancing will be possible. Our advice is that – as a guide – 8 people in total may represent a safe maximum number of people in most cases.
We are being advised that until Phase 4 there will be significant physical distancing measures in place and restrictions on numbers at all group gatherings. During Phase 3 it is therefore important to consider how to plan your pre- and post- ceremony celebrations.
Depending on the space in your chosen wedding venue, it may be possible to enjoy an evening dance with a small number of guests physically distancing during the dance. As such, it is hard to imagine how a traditional Scottish Ceilidh could go ahead during Phase 3. It is important to discuss the options available to you with your venue provider.
Our promise to you
These are uncertain times and the more security you can have in your plans the more relaxed you will feel in the lead up to your wedding. In the event that your chosen celebrant is physically unable to conduct your ceremony e.g. due to illness, enforced virus related self-isolation or quarantine, or for some other reason, then we will do our utmost to arrange for a fellow Agnostic Scotland celebrant to conduct your ceremony on their behalf.
We are looking forward to working with you to shape your ceremony into all that you wish it to be. All the ceremonies we conduct are entirely reflective of the individuals involved – their personalities, their stories, their beliefs, values and wishes. During this time of physical distancing and restrictions we are even more committed to putting our creativity to work to create a ceremony that will make your heart sing.
“There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.”
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
As a member of a shielding family, I have been watching in awe over the past few months as my fellow funeral celebrants and funeral sector colleagues go to herculean efforts to support families through incredibly challenging times.
Funerals have been stripped back to the bare minimum to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Attendance numbers have been restricted to immediate family only and shielding relatives have been advised not to attend. Physical distancing measures are in place with all attendees spaced 2 metres apart. Everyone attending must adhere to a stringent no contact policy with each other or with anything in the room, including the coffin. They may also be following the Government guidance to wear masks in enclosed spaces.
These measures are understandable in that they have clearly been an important part of the prevention of further illness and deaths from Covid-19. However, they have come at a huge emotional cost despite the valiant efforts of all involved to ease the process for families and create a loving and memorable tribute to the person who has died.
Families may feel they have been unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones. Friends have been unable to attend the funerals of the people they cared deeply about. Those who have been able to attend have been restricted in how they are able to express their grief and sympathy. Many have suffered from the lack of connection with others during this time. Too many mourners have had to face their loss and grief alone, without the much-needed support of their wider friends, family and community.
Being given the freedom and flexibility to pay tribute to a loved one who has died is incredibly important and a crucial part of coming to terms with our loss. In these past months, too many families have been unable to spend time with their dying relatives and friends in their final days or weeks. Too many grieving individuals have been forced to retreat from the comfort and support of family and friends at a time when they need it most. It is heartbreaking to see so many struggle to cope with the necessary restrictions about how they must celebrate the life of the person they love – with no opportunity to rest a hand on the coffin of the person they loved, no chance to remember together with family and friends, no opportunity to have hugs from those closest to them.
In this time of physical distancing and isolation, it feels as if the world is on pause… like we are all taking a collective deep breath in and waiting until it is safe to exhale fully and deeply. Grief too has been suspended, interrupted. Countless people are facing the impossible task of moving forward in grief without access to the support, rituals and activities that would have helped them process the death of the person dear to them. It is essential that we find ways to ease this pain and support families in coming to terms with their loss.
As Celebrants, my colleagues and I at Agnostic Scotland are hopeful that we can play our part. We are being asked by families who have been unable to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones to conduct Memorial Ceremonies for them, once physical distancing restrictions are relaxed and we can move safely through the Scottish Government Route Map Phases.
A Memorial Ceremony can take many forms. For some, a poignant, intimate ceremony with only very close family and friends present may feel right. For others, an epic celebration with a gathering of wider friends and family could sound perfect. Memorial Ceremonies can take place in beautiful outdoor locations, in the comfort of your home, in community centres or town halls, or in grand hotels. The content of a Memorial Ceremony is entirely your choice. Each ceremony is crafted to entirely reflect the person being celebrated – their stories, their personality and their beliefs, values and wishes.
Importantly, a Memorial Ceremony gives families the chance to come together in grief. It is an opportunity to honour and fully celebrate the life of the person who has died, to share stories and make toasts, to send blessings and reflect. It is a chance for grieving families to begin to make peace with the passing of the person they cared deeply about.
For every Memorial Ceremony we conduct this year we plant a tree in our Agnostic Scotland Grove in the Highlands in honour of the person being remembered. We also donate 10% of our fee to the UN Refugee Agency Covid-19 Appeal. For those unable to cover the cost of a Memorial Service we may be able to help through our Agnostic Scotland Community Fund.
While memorials can’t take place just now due to restrictions there are ways that loved ones, families and friends can take a moment to remember those they have lost. St Pauls’s Cathedral has launched Remember Me, an online book of remembrance for people of all faiths, beliefs or none. Funeral Celebrant, Rosalie Kuyvenhoven and Sacred Stones support a Candlelight Vigil, Mondays at 8pm via Instagram. An online gathering organised by www.lifedeathwhatever.com has been postponed but will be rescheduled so click on link to find out more.
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, I had been planning, along with my fellow Celebrants at Agnostic Scotland, 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.
Due to Covid-19, and the restrictions in place, the Pride Edinburgh Organisers, with the safety of all attendees at the forefront of their decision making, postponed the celebrations. However, we are with them in spirit, standing in solidarity. We wholeheartedly support equal rights and respect for all people irrespective of Colour, Creed, Sexuality, Gender or Class.
Given all that is going on in the world, we feel that now especially is the time for love to conquer all. Now is the time for us to 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 to respectful kindness. 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 ‘love bus’ – we’d love to welcome you on board. We’ll see you in person on the new date for Pride Edinburgh, yet to be announced, in 2021.