Celebrant work tends to focus on the biggest and most obvious rites of passage – birth, marriage and death are most commonly dealt with ceremonially, we might also mark coming of age and entry into being an elder. However, life is full of rites of passage, or life initiations, as I’ve heard them referred to (Chaos Magician Barry Walker first coined the term, I believe).
The first time I was really conscious of this I think, was when I was heavily pregnant. There is only one way forward from there – by some means, the baby will leave your body, hopefully alive, possibly not. You too could die. Pre-birth it is impossible to realistically imagine what the birthing process will be like. There’s also the huge change of having a child, which again I don’t think anything truly prepares you for. Everything changes.
There are many other life events that you can see coming and know are going to bring the unimaginable. Moving home, changing job, entering and giving up on relationships, the deaths of family members and loved ones, and many other tests and trials. A significant number of the challenges we face come out of nowhere, and it may not be until much later that you get to sit down and make some kind of sense out of what happened to you. These upheavals are dramatic and taking the time to honour and recognise them can help make the process more coherent and palatable. In celebrating, we may also make public, and that can bring the benefit of advice from others who may have gone through something similar. It’s not until you’re an initiate of certain life rites that others will tell you they’ve been there too. The women who also lost babies. The men who were also abused… and the good stuff as well. Once you know, there are things that can be shared because there’s no need to explain, and some things can only be understood once they’ve been lived.
Not everything is event, either. Not all transitions are sudden and dramatic, puberty and aging are not events really, parenthood is a work in progress and so forth. Sometimes it pays to stop and look back to see where you’ve been, because often it’s only then you realise that you have come a very long way, one step at a time.
There aren’t any formal ways of marking these passages, but I think it helps to take them seriously in your own, private practice.