I have submitted this to the Skills Council as being my take on why we should have and in-depth Diploma Course in Celebrancy. The tragedy is that before the Downgrading of 2003, and the deluging of the celebrant marketplace, we were getting somewhere. We were going somewhere good.
The Civil Celebrant and the Diploma Course.
It is difficult to explain my position briefly but let me start by saying I totally favour the CoCa position of the Diploma being the minimum requirement for celebrancy.
In 1995 at the invitation of the AGs Department eighteen of us celebrants devised a course of three Diplomas in Celebrancy (Marriage, Funeral and General).
This International College of Celebrancy course was, and still is, rich with inspiring and motivating theory. It tracked the achievements and ideals and values of the main religions in the cultural, social and personal realm and applied these lessons to our predominantly secular cultural scene (secular spirituality if you like).
Creating the course and refining it over sixteen years.
The eighteen celebrants who, with academic advice, created our eight module course dealt with questions such as the history of ceremony, why we have ceremony, and what the psychological, social and cultural effects of ceremony are. We researched why we have a link between the unity of a ceremony and the full range of the visual and performing arts. We articulated and discussed the question of why it is better to do a good ceremony than a mediocre one in a secular context. We discussed the effects, for example, of a marriage ceremony on the conscious and unconscious mind, and how ceremonies have been created to help human beings to adjust to changes in human life.
In deepening our understanding of the celebrant role we, of course, turned to the anthropologists, sociologists, commentators and historians in the field. The pivotal but difficult book, Arnold Van Gennep’s “The Rite of Passage, of course was central. But there was also insights and inspiration in the works of Joseph Campbell, Ronald Grimes, David Oldfield (USA!), Margaret Mead, Alain de Botton and Louise Mahdi.
A Cultural Infrastructure of Ceremonies
As we studied these works we came to realise that we were blessed by Attorney-General Lionel Murphy with a pivotal, unique, innovative and challenging celebrant role. We realised we had been charged with developing a cultural infrastructure of ceremonies, which replaced the rejected supernatural infrastructure of the religions, but which expresses, transmits, and reinforces the wonderful and enriching artistic treasures and deep and evolved values we have inherited from the religious influences which have formed western society.
We also studied, for example, how a creative funeral ceremony aids in triggering the process of healthy grief and the maintenance of sanity and much more.
A Course in celebrancy cannot be superficial it must be transformative which means absorbing the content of a course over a suitable period. Quickie courses, beloved of capitalistic economists simply do not give a student the TIME to absorb, think and transform. Educationally, it does not work.
And as well as inspiring education there must be training and mentoring in the practical skills and actual ceremonial practice. Further additional skills such as creative writing and competent public speaking. A celebrant too must spend a great deal of time understanding the need for resources – knowing the great inheritance of poetry, music, prose, story-telling, mythology, symbolism, choreography and the visual arts – many need to acquire a feel for the beauty in these components and how to apply them appropriately in a ceremony which means something. My colleagues and I have developed this at the then Attorney-General’s invitation. (But then when we downgraded in 2003 a new era emerged which concentrated on legal trivia – most of which was wrong anyway. Hence the 6 changes of the official guidelines for celebrants.)
I stood on this hill in this small country town. It could have been any one of hundreds of country towns in Australia. I counted five churches. One could tell that they were all in disrepair, either no longer used or the numbers sadly depleted.
I asked myself what went on here. These institutions once transmitted the influences which formed our society – but they have lost their mojo, who and what is there to replace them? What cultural infrastructure do we have to replace the religio-cultural infrastructure we had here?
That was a eureka moment for me. I hope I can pass it on to you. In your hands you have this marvellous opportunity to intelligently contribute to the education and formation of the cvil celebrant of the future – hopefully part of a team of celebrants so well educated and trained that they will have a lasting positive effect on our society.
This website sets out the eight Modules, the three Diplomas, the Graduate Diploma and the opportunity to achieve the award of Master of Celebrancy. (only one of students has ever achieved this.
Dally Messenger III