A Celebrant reclaiming the ‘Sacred’

The (original) tag line for my business, which is, in essence a public version of myself, is “sacred ceremonies . precious memories”

I debated for a long time over the third word because of the connotations and assumptions that come with it. For many years I have avoided using it in public, preferring to keep it as a secret descriptor that represented, for me, the depth and complexity of my relationship with life, the universe and everything.

As I grow older and (yes) wiser, I have changed my mind; deciding not only to speak this word aloud but embrace it as a part of who I am in all spheres of my life.

But why should one little word cause me so much concern?

A small yellow sign screwed into a stone wall that reads "Vicar Only"
photo credit: Steve Nimmons | Author Vicar Only via photopin (license)


The first three definitions of the word ‘sacred’ at dictionary.com refer heavily to religious devotion and divinity. In some dictionaries, and in many people’s minds, the meaning of the word ‘sacred’ ends there.

But I do not define myself as a religious person and, in fact, my role as a Celebrant often sees me serving folks who are anti-religion or for whom religion is a very personal, pagan thing. Through my work I actively encourage people to find and create alternatives to the more common religious rituals and tradition.

I am not however an atheist; if anything you could call me agnostic. Sometimes I use the term pagan (another word I have a long, complicated history with) and still others might refer to me as spiritual. But none of these words fully encompasses the complexity and richness of how I experience life.

‘Sacred’ however, seems to do just that.


A Secular Sacred

The fourth and fifth definitions over at dictionary.com are as follows:

4. reverently dedicated to some person, purpose or object

5. regarded with reverence

These come a lot closer to describing my feelings towards the word but, once again, the word reverence easily conjures up notions of religious worship, submissive behaviour and a somewhat blind sense of trust. None of these describe my relationship with the natural World, its inhabitants or indeed ceremony; so I have decided to write up a definition of my own. It’s not likely to be as pithy or concise, but I’m hoping it will give others an idea of the qualities I am referring to when I use the word ‘sacred’.

A woman stands beside the branches of a tree and reaches up with one hand towards the sky
© Althea de Carteret

Web of Life

I am constantly in awe of our World.

Despite the complications, injustices and tragedies that occur worldwide, largely within our human societies, I can not escape the sense of childlike wonder that is inspired in me when I see, meet and connect with the natural World. There is something about its organised chaos, its beautiful destruction, its endless cycles of life/death/rebirth that speak to me at a deep and instinctive level.

Over the years this feeling has coalesced into a knowing that all life is connected. I am an animist which means I believe all things, whether they appear sentient or not, have a life force and a unique place in this World that entitles them to respect and care. This quality binds us all in a deeply complex and necessary Web of Life which, through its sense of interconnectedness, combined with a deep sense of gratitude and awe, create my belief that life is more than the simple sum of its parts.

For me, these endless connections and wonders elevate existence as we know it beyond mindless mundanity and into the realms of the ‘sacred’, by which I mean into something worth honouring, exploring and respecting as much as we can.


Sacred Ceremony, Sacred Celebrant

Ceremony is, for me, an expression of this belief.

Ritualised actions and words have been part of our human condition since prehistory; there is something deeply ingrained in our animal brain that wishes to embody the things that are important to us in a way that marks them as special, meaningful and part of this Web of Life.

The joined canopies of many trees in leaf, taken from beneath.

Whether the content of these rituals references any kind of particluar ideology is unimportant; it is the act of standing in the World and before witnesses, speaking vows, performing action that is sacred.

Whatever your own personal beliefs, your wedding ceremony or naming ceremony will be of sacred importance to me. That doesn’t mean I’ll be filling it with my own personal thoughts and inferences; I won’t even use the word ‘sacred’ unless you want me to. But I will approach each ceremony with a deep sense of respect, honour and care. It is not just a job but a privilege to perform each one, because for that brief period of time my thread is woven with yours, and together we create a unique moment in the history of everything.

And if that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is!


What does the word ‘sacred’ mean to you? Would you use it? 

 © Matt Thompson

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