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Celebrate! The Art of Celebrancy-Helen K Woodsford-Dean (Magpie)

Mark and I attended the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) residential training course on celebrancy at the Earthspirit Centre near Glastonbury between 17th and 21st September.  This is a quick summary for SPF folks of what happened.

There were 36 of us in attendance, not everyone was an OBODie (Mark and I are) and folk came from all over the world to attend (Mexico and New Zealand, Rep. of Ireland and Orkney, yes we got a mention!).  It was run by Philip Carr-Gomm, with Stephanie Carr-Gomm, other speakers were Caitlin Matthews, Mark Townsend (the magician priest who has been at SPF Conference), Peter Owen-Jones ("Around the world in 80 faiths"), & JJ Middleway.  In the evenings we also had the opportunity to do a listening workshop (good practice for writing eulogies) and voice workshops.

I'd never been on spiritual retreat before and initially I was my usual nervous self but on the whole OBODies are sorted folk and it was friendly and supportive.  Food was EXCELLENT and my walking movement took on a certain waddle.  A further bonus was being located in the shadows of an Iron Age hillfort and I miss hillforts so much, brochs are not quite the same ...

First afternoon and evening was orientation, just getting to know each other.  Those present had a huge variation in experience.  There were folk with a background in Christian ministry, interfaith ministers, all manner of folk who had done courses and were self-employed celebrants (mainly funerals), and a couple of folk who had no experience at all but felt "called".  What I was most intrigued to learn was that even the Anglican priests felt that their training had been theological rather than practical: it seems that the only way to learn celebrancy is to actually do it ... and the first time is terrifying for everyone!

First full day was funerals.  A difficult subject as grief is a wound which we all wear and as celebrants it is this that enables us to empathise with others and makes our rituals more human.  Caitlin provided the Celtic history.  Magic from Mark Townsend made this session, well, magic and lighter. 

Friday 19th September was namings and coming-of-age rituals.  Again, Caitlin gave us the Celtic background and sources, Mark Townsend shared his magic and humour.  We had to create an "eldering" ritual as part of this session, small group working.

Last day was weddings.  Caitlin provided the Celtic history again and I was invited to tell some stories about Orkney's very own Odin Stone (you just can’t keep a Tourist Guide quiet, can you?).  Mark and I realised how privileged we were at being able to perform legal weddings in Scotland.  Very few people present had performed a legal wedding service. Mark and I and the other celebrants who had most experience in weddings were asked to lead small groups on basically "it shouldn't happen to a Celebrant" - all the awful things that have happened to us and from which we have learnt what not to do.

Last evening was an Eistedfodd (we are Druids!).  Dance, song, laughter, stories, poetry ...

The final morning was a session of where to go now.  All of us felt that this was a calling, something vocational we wanted to offer our communities, but Interfaith ministry is expensive and lengthy whilst the other training offered commercially is predominantly spiritual but non-religious; we wanted specifically Druid or Pagan training - at this point scary and grown-up words such as "ordination", "recognition", "authority" and "insurance"  were vocalised.  As a group we called upon our Chosen Chief (Philip) to start to look into these possibilities. 

Then we had an Alban Elfed ritual to celebrate autumn equinox.  This was brilliant!

My personal reflection and feelings? 

Well, there is certainly a need for our services as priests and priestesses or whatever we choose to call ourselves.  Not just for our own Pagan communities but also for the growing number of people who refer to themselves as "spiritual but not religious".  I cannot be the only SPF Celebrant who mainly performs ceremonies for folk who don't call themselves "Pagan"?  But I only have to ask my “clients” what they do believe and I often find a genuine and honest contact with the numinous through nature - they are Pagan in all but name.

I think perhaps it is time for various Pagan organisations to start running their own training, so that we can provide "recognised" "ministry" (and eek, fully aware that I may not "pass").  This very idea will be anathema to many Pagans who believe that there should be no "clergy" between themselves and deity, but I think this is less about the individual clergy member's quality of faith and communication with “deity”, and more about a recognition by human “institutions” of human qualities which make someone a good Celebrant (eek, even more aware that I may not pass and I may be typing myself out of a role).  This could include Disclosure checks, professional indemnity and insurance provision; anything which provides “endorsement” for the “public”.

You've probably gathered from my account that I am a fan of OBOD.  What I like about it is the formal correspondence course; unlike much Pagan training, this is organised (I have subscribed to some dubious correspondence courses over the years and experienced some haphazard coven training).  I also like its base in psycho-therapy (personal growth happens whether or not change takes place spiritually).  For me, it seems quite logical that OBOD may be one of the first organisations to develop this training because OBOD has the structure and expertise already in place.  It may be that it is offered only as an extension to the Druid grade.

My overwhelming intuition is that this Celebrate! retreat may have been the beginning of a new developmental phase in Paganism – as with all changes there will be a mixture of things which arise – but I believe that the next stages for Paganism may be a movement towards increasing legitimacy in the eyes of the state; hopefully this can be done without dogma.

Finally, I met lots of interesting and lovely people ... all of whom seem to have "Orkney" on their must-visit list so I may be making a lot of cakes and brewing a lot of tea in the next few years.  I also made some useful contacts and it was a delight and honour to chat to some of my favourite authors.  I like to think that Mark and I did a decent job of representing SPF and SPF's Celebrants too, obviously we didn't attend in that official capacity, but it was inevitable that we spoke about SPF and the different law in Scotland when it comes to weddings. 

Very, very finally: if you get a chance to go on an OBOD retreat, do so!  Thoroughly recommended.