“Here is an author who deeply understands ritual and symbolism.
If you understand what celebrancy is about, the first of September 2003 is a day which makes you put you face in in your hands and weep. This was the day when a group of uneducated, insensitive, unintelligent and rather vicious public servants, endowed with new and extraordinary government sanctioned powers, set out, knowingly or unknowingly, to destroy the civil celebrant program.
A disillusioned Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, who left the political scene mid-term, must have signed off or approved the changes to the Marriage Act – changes which gave extraordinary new powers to these empire building pubic servants.
The first thing they did was to destroy our worldwide, and uniquely recognised title and identity as “civil celebrants”. Unbelievably, they jumbled us up with the “fringe” clergy (small churches, breakaway religious splinter groups, neo-ethnic religions and the like).
But it gets worse, celebrancy became a world of overblown legalisms, concocted but baseless legal problems, many of which were unworkable in practice and erroneous in law.
But it gets worse still, these “reforms” (god, how I hate that word) stopped a wonderful community program in its tracks. Since that time from the Attorney-General’s department – or rarely from the associations or “training organisations”, I have never seen the words “music”, “poetry”, “story-telling”, “choreography”, “symbolism”, “literary quotations”, “visual arts”, “community bonding”, “relationship strengthening” ,”transmission of values”, “recognition of achievements”, “the power of ritual” – and on and on.
I have put my face in my hands many times since and anguish “Oh, for some understanding, some depth!”
And then along comes Anna Heriot’s book. Talk about fresh air. Not a word about Google, not a word about marketing, not a word about legalisms, not a word about the ever perfectible Notice of Intended Marriage. But here we have a book about people, about ceremony, about resolving issues and communicating and enriching humanity through ritual.
Anna’s book is divided into three parts. The first part is an appreciation of the history of celebrancy and the main issues which were faced by the founding father. She tells the tale of Lionel Murphy and the issues of love and hate, religious domination of the institutions of society, religious conflict between Catholics, Protestants and to some extent, Jews. Issues of misogyny, social exclusion of divorced women, equality, and most of all, divorce and re-marriage. She lauds the Family Law Act and civil celebrancy as the means by which persons regained self-respect and justice through the law.
The second part of Anna’s book focusses on her understanding of secular ritual. She relates her own experiences to Arnold Van Gennep (“The Rites of Passage”) and quotes the philosopher Xunxi from the third century AD.
The meaning of ritual is deep indeed.
He who tries to enter it with the kind of perception that
distinguishes hard and white, same and different, will drown there.
The meaning of ritual is great indeed.
He who tries to enter it with the uncouth and inane
theories of the system-makers will perish there.
The meaning of ritual is lofty indeed.
He who tries to enter with the violent and arrogant ways of
those who despise common customs and consider
themselves to be above other men
will meet his downfall there.
In the practical sense she illustrates the necessary skills of profoundly attentive listening and animated creative writing of unique ceremonies.
The third part of the book is, in my opinion, the best. It is her stories of her own experiences with people for whom she has been challenged to create ceremonies which have the power and effectiveness to change lives for the better. She calls these stories “vignettes”.
Here are some first sentences.
“They had started to think, in desperation, they would just have to elope …”
“The bride had married twice in her teens. Two “boofheads” her dad called them …”
“They met through music, and liked each other immediately…”
“This is the heading of the email she circulates, “No more miracles, I am preparing to die ….”
“Her mother suicides in the city at the age of 53, when she is a teenager…”
“Her twin girls died at birth …”
You get the idea. The book is about the creative challenge of the sensitive compassionate celebrant in the real world.
by Dally Messenger III
The Title of the book is “A Celebrant’s Notebook”, writer and publisher, Anna Heriot 2018 (edited by Emily Buster). RRP $29.95 ISBN9780-646-98048-5 Hardback. Available from — annaheriot.com.au – or it could be soon available from the Celebrants Centre – 1300 446 786