Ceremony is what differentiates us, as mammals, from the other animals we get to share this beautiful world with. There’s some really clear things, from a behavioural perspective, that animals do to mark stuff.
When a male humpback whale encounters a female whale he will initiate a sequence of slow and graceful dance moves, a ritual waltz happens to say, ‘we’re ready to have babies now.’
Nature marks transitions all of the time and we instinctively look to nature to mark the passing of time – daily with the sun, monthly with the moon and seasonally with spring blooms and falling leaves.
Our ancestors knew that marking transitions was really important for us as humans who walk the earth. That’s why we do weddings and funerals. It’s why we’ve put rituals around the big transitions, like marking birthdays every year.
Ceremony is just an extension of this.
It puts a frame around the things that feel like they’re transitions – moments to celebrate and or to feel sad about. Ceremonies allow us to express emotion and to let go.
Have you ever noticed what happens with an antelope who’s just run away from a lion? It shakes its whole body – it quite literally shakes off the stress, adrenaline and trauma. And that’s a form of ritual too, a naturally inbuilt one for that animal.
The logic holds for us humans as well. Ritual, ceremony, celebration, marking transition (whatever word works for!) allows us to shed and let go of the old and welcome the new.
Because there is a kind of birthing ceremony in every single transition, whether it be teenage, whether it be physical birth, whether it be marriage, whether it be death. There’s always something dying, something birthing – there’s always something that has changed. This is what the ceremonial process is about. It enables us as humans to mark an event in a way that allows us to let go of what went before and welcome what is to come.
When we think of it in these terms the ceremonial process is as natural (and needed!) for us humans, as mammals, as it is for the humpback whale and the antelope. It also means that ceremony does not just belong to religion or spirituality as some of our societal conditioning may have led us to believe.
If you’re someone who does not identify strongly with religion or spirituality, we can simply lessen the words that evoke those contexts because there is still a power for you in celebrating and marking the transition of something old to something new.
And the wonderful thing about humans, is we’ve been given a prefrontal cortex that allows us to sit down and write beautiful words, to write something that’s quite wonderful to allow us to move from the old to the new.
This does not need to be complicated!
It could simply be that you heard a song on the radio that resonated with you and brings back the memories and feelings you had when your child was being born. And you think to yourself, ‘I’m really not sure I want to do a ceremony, it sounds too formal, I’d like to do a bit of a celebration, because this child is now here. And I heard that song so many times during the pregnancy. And it was wow! It really touched me.’
And so that’s what we do. We sit, or we stand, and it can just be me, you and the baby, or whoever else is present. And we listen, and we be with that song and the words of it. And we promise that child what you plan to be as a parent. And it’s done, there’s no more needed than that.
So it seems that Bloodhound Gang couldn’t have been more on point with that famous opening line to their song ‘The Bad Touch’ – we really ain’t nothing but mammals, especially when it comes to ceremony!
All we ever need to do is bring it back to the fact that we get to walk in a body that makes us a mammal – the breathing, giving live birth, dying, being in a tribe kind of mammal.
Those kinds of animals have rituals. When we as humans hold ceremonies all we’re doing is emanating, we are copying them. And best of all we can do it in a slightly different way, because we’ve got this bigger brain.
There’s a wonderful joy in that which is simply celebrating that something has changed.
To find out more about the ceremonies I hold check out the A Place for Ceremony page here: