Alternative Marriage Ceremonies Anyone?

By Debbie Merritt – Independent Marriage, Family and Funeral Celebrant

Approved Celebrant with National Records of Scotland
Member of the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants
Registered Celebrant with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids

Hello! I’ve been working as a Celebrant for nearly 20 years, and moved to this beautiful island in August 2019, from the Devon/Cornwall border. We spent the first 6 months finding the garden (well, it was there, just a jungle) and then Covid struck. Since then I have conducted a couple of funerals, and have worked on getting my new website up and running.

Alternative Marriage Ceremonies, what are they? They are ceremonies with a difference. When a couple approaches me about their ceremony, my first question is ‘what would your dream ceremony look like/include?’ Each ceremony is unique and bespoke (as all my ceremonies are). I have conducted intimate ceremonies on beaches, in woodland, in gardens; large congregations at stately homes and at festivals, and on one occasion at Newquay Zoo (between the Red Pandas and the Macaws). Some have been very traditional, and others quirky or:

Themed these can be as theatrical as you wish! They can be related to the couples hobbies, taste in literature or film, their heritage and/or beliefs. Think Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Viking, Celtic, Anglo Saxon?

After an informal wedding blessing

Until now, these would be wedding blessings or Handfastings (which I can, of course still do) but I have recently become registered with National Records of Scotland as an Approved Celebrant with the Scottish Pagan Federation, so I can now conduct legal marriages.

What does that mean? The Scottish Pagan Federation is a democratic organisation with members from all Pagan traditions. Paganism is a spiritual way of life which has its roots in the ancient nature religions of the world.

My background – I am a fully trained Druid with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (www.druidry.org), which is a Spiritual, nature based faith. As a Druid, I use my skills to give service to the community and for me this is being a celebrant in all its forms, supporting people through the journeys and milestones of life and death, not dissimilar to any other minister, and I work with people of all faiths and none. The Order has many thousands of members all around the world, and the basis of our faith revolves around the seasons of the year. When allowed Steve and I intend to host ‘open’ ceremonies to mark the turning of the year. Please visit our Facebook page ‘Druids of Arran’ for more details. Druidry blends well with other faiths, and there are Christian Druids, Buddhist Druids, Muslim Druids and more. It is non dogmatic and non judgemental. Each persons’ journey is their own, with mentors to support their studies. Druidry became the first Pagan practice to be given official recognition as a religion in 2010. As Druidry comes under the very broad umbrella of the Pagan Federation (Scotland), I was honoured to be granted permission to conduct legal marriages in Scotland. The only requirements are that at least one of the couple can say that they see the divine in nature, and that they have a spirituality that reflects this, and they don’t object to my signing their marriage certificate as ‘Celebrant, the Pagan Federation (Scotland)’.

Interfaith – I can create a ceremony that is interfaith, with prayers and readings as required, and also create roles for as many of the wedding party as requested (including animal ring bearers), which makes the ceremony even more memorable.

Other types of ceremonies

Family joining – I can create a ceremony, either within a marriage ceremony, or on its own, that joins two families, as is often the case these days, the children being included in the ceremony.
Baby naming – also can be included, but they are usually a stand alone ceremony. With fewer families choosing to have their babies Christened, I feel that it is a shame that family and friends don’t gather together to welcome this little new life into the world, and give the baby his/her names.
Vow renewals – some couples enjoy celebrating their wedding anniversaries, especially the ‘big’ ones, with family and friends, and a vow renewal as a focus is lovely. The vows we made on our wedding day, may not be the same as the ones we would make in later life.
Funerals – For these ceremonies the requests and beliefs of the family, and of the deceased are paramount. I am sensitive to the needs of the family and will create a celebration of the life of the loved one
Memorials/ End of life celebrations – It has been so very difficult for families of the deceased in the last year. Funerals have by necessity been short, with few mourners allowed. Hopefully in the not too distant future, we will be able to gather again, and these ceremonies can be arranged to honour and celebrate the lives of those we have loved and lost. I have conducted these in homes, hotels and halls. I usually act as a master of ceremonies, linking speakers, powerpoint presentations and music, but can read tributes from anyone who feels unable to on the day. Of course this can be handled entirely by the family, you can be creative as you wish!
Ash Scattering – this can be very private, or as extravagant as the family wishes, and often included as part of a memorial/ end of life celebration.
Funeral Pre planning – some people have particular wishes for their funeral. Not necessarily which Funeral Director they want, but maybe where they want to be buried/ cremated, who they want to conduct the ceremony, and what they want included. Ideally we have these conversations with our nearest and dearest, but often it’s too hard. So, I am happy to have this discussion either with yourself, or with your family. It’s important that these wishes are given to family members, as if in the will, by the time it is read it is often too late. A personal example is that a relative of mine was buried, and when her will was read it said that she wanted to be cremated! I have sent my son and my husband my wishes, headed ‘you don’t need to read this now’.

I only ever conduct one ceremony a day so that I can totally focus on the ceremony for the day, and so that I can be flexible with timing.

I am available to have a chat with you over the phone on 07970282498 or 302091, and by email debbiemerritt2@gmail.com.

Photo credit Debbie Merritt

Featured image – A formal wedding, blessing and baby naming ceremony.