The vast majority of my experience as a celebrant comes from honouring rites of passage within my community, and for folk who are pagan. That, to be honest, is very easy to do, and anyone with ritual experience and confidence would not struggle to act as a celebrant for a fellow pagan in a pagan context.
The difficult job is when you have folk who are drawn to the pagan ways but not actively pagan themselves, and/or friends and family who aren’t at all pagan. Last year I buried a friend – while she, and our mutual friends were pagan, most of her extended family are Christians, but they wanted to honour her beliefs – which I thought was tremendously brave and honourable of them. Many folk, in a time of grief, would turn to what they know and trust. I’ve also attended, and led handfastings where there was a significant non-pagan element.
It creates some interesting challenges. Not least being that you have a whole load of people who don’t know what to expect, or wear, where to stand, when or how to join in etc. The more information these folks get in advance, the better. Non-pagan people, presented with a pagan ceremony, (especially an upbeat one) can be surprisingly willing to respond with costume and energy, which is far more fun than finding they’ve all turned up as though dressed for church (I’ve seen that happen too.)
I thought I’d share some things that have worked for me in these situations.
1) Plenty of advanced warning and information, and think about how you want folk to dress as that really informs how they relate to the event.
2) See if members of the family can be involved – and give them bits of script to make it easy for them. Planned family/friend involvement makes it less scary for those who don’t know what to expect.
3) Explain as you go. Most druid rituals avoid dedicating people to any deity in particular. ‘Spirit’ is a good word, and you can invite people to relate to that in whatever way makes sense to them. You only need to throw in a few words of explanation – especially at the start, to reassure and settle people, but it makes a world of difference.
4) For anything other than funerals, consecrate the circle with water. Get a child to do it if you can and sprinkle liberally. The ensuing chaos and laughter usually gets people to unwind.
5) Make sure everyone has a chance to join in, and frame it in an easy, unscary way. A chance to drink the health of the people undergoing the rite of passage is perfect – at weddings, funerals, child naming – any rite. Or give people easy things they can do, like strewing flowers, cheering. Avoid anything that may make people feel self conscious.
Every circle has a different vibe, and a lot of it comes down to intuition on the day to find how to work with it. Ritual performed for non-pagans is very much about performance, presence, a little theatre (but not too much), and enabling people to engage. You may find you get a lot of enquiries afterwards.