A Celebrant’s Notebook: by Anna Heriot – Review

Anna Heriot

Anna Heriot

“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

Diploma Course for Celebrants (Skills Council)

Re: Training Qualification Review

Postby Dally » Tue May 05, 2015 11:59 am

Fellow Members
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.

ICC Sydney19May05-2.JPG

Students of the College gathered in Sydney (some time ago now !)


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.

Transformation
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.)

Personal Reflection
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.
See http://www.iccdiplomas.com
Dally Messenger III

Education and Training for Celebrants

I wrote down these thoughts as celebrants and public servants are arguing about a proposed “recognised” course for celebrants.

Preview: Re: 1A CHCCEL503X Research, create, evaluate and organize ceremonies

Oh Dear
Our Diploma of Marriage Celebrancy (international College of Celebrancy) has had this course, this material, this research done for twenty years.
How can you expect public servants, even educational organisers, to decide on a course of celebrancy when they have never done the study, have never been active celebrants -= do not know what it means, and cannot see where it fits into the context of the broader society? Where is Van Gennep, where is Grimes, where is Campbell? Where is the researched input from experienced celebrants and students?
But is our ICC course recognised, ask some?
Recognised by whom? By ignorant non-celebrants with pre-conceived ideas?
What do they, you, whoever want? Education and training? Or the “recognition” of the ignorant.
This is so superficial it drives me crackers.
They don’t know what they don’t know. 
A course in celebrancy has to come from a team of people who are experienced, who reflect on their experience, and who study and distill the experience of scholars in the field and relate it to their own experience.
The AG in 1995 asked us to create courses, with their support. This we did in the end without their support.
Then a certain public servant decided she knew better than us celebrants.
This foolish discussion and struggle is the result.