PC: Felicia Chang Photography
As a Cultural Mythologist, End of Life Doula, and Life Cycle Celebrant, I’ve designed hundreds of ceremonies to help people mark both beginnings and endings – in relationships, in careers, in birth, and in death. I know that ritual and ceremony can help us process difficult experiences, share our stories, and connect us to each other.
Ten years ago, my husband and I experienced three recurrent miscarriages while losing his father to ALS. It was then that I realized just how important ritual and ceremony was in helping people acknowledge both the visible and invisible losses we experience every day.
I’ve always been drawn to ritual and ceremony. Yet because I’m not religious, nor do I hold strong cultural traditions, I never knew how to bring ritual into my secular life in a way that felt personal and meaningful. I was also cognizant of not wanting to appropriate from other cultures and I didn’t want to get it wrong. So I started to research secular and universal rituals and I created a framework that is accessible to anyone who is seeking ceremony in their own journey.
I’ve come to realize that becoming ceremonial is like building a muscle – the more you invite rituals into your daily life, the stronger those ritual muscles become. So when something big or challenging happens in your life, you already have a ritual practice to draw from. There are so many ways you can invite ritual into your life and into the lives of others, yet until you have a solid relationship with ritual yourself, it’s difficult to introduce it to someone else.
We all connect with ritual and ceremony in different ways. For some, rituals are simple actions that fold into the day, like getting out of bed the same way each morning. For others, rituals are grand gestures that bring people together, like a family dinner or an annual holiday event. Our relationship with ritual is continually evolving, so finding your own way to describe your relationship with ritual is essential if you want to start creating ceremonies for others.
For me, a ritual is an intention action taken with the hope of creating meaning. A ritual can stand alone or it can be a component of a ceremony, like a piece of a puzzle. Rituals don’t need to be complicated or complex; in fact, some of the most powerful rituals are connected to everyday tasks, such as making your morning coffee or throwing a stone into the river.
The difference between a routine and a ritual is that you fall into a routine, and you step into a ritual. The intention to create meaning is what elevates our everyday actions into the realm of ritual.
For me, a ceremony is a series of rituals, each one strung together to create a larger story. A ceremony offers people an opportunity to release the past, be still in the present, and set intentions for the future. Ceremonies help us move through times of change and transition with attention and intention.
I believe that rituals and ceremonies can be shaped and reshaped into what we need, when we need them. The world keeps changing, and our rituals should reflect that change and adapt as needed.
My husband and I built Be Ceremonial, a ceremony creation platform, to empower people with ritual ideas and ceremony inspiration across the life cycle. Our app lets you choose your own ritual adventure, choosing from hundreds of secular and universal rituals to create a ceremony unique to you or your client.
We focus on what we call ‘the seemingly invisible moments’, because those are the experiences we don’t always know how to acknowledge – moments like receiving a terminal diagnosis, reimagining a living wake, planning a home funeral, organizing a celebration of life, or honouring a death anniversary.
There are so many opportunities to invite ritual and ceremony into the end of life realm. Once you start becoming more ceremonial, you’ll see that ceremony is everywhere and there are endless possibilities when it comes to reimagining the role of ritual in our lives.
You can sign up for our App for free at www.beceremonial.com and start creating ceremonies for yourself and for your community. We also offer custom ceremonies, community events, and in-person retreats via Seeking Ceremony.
Megan Sheldon (she/her) is a mythologist, storyteller, and celebrant. Her passion is building community through storytelling. She’s the founder of Narrative Communications, a brand storytelling studio, and the co-founder of Seeking Ceremony and Be Ceremonial. Megan has convened hundreds of workshops, retreats, and ceremonies that span the life cycle. After her experience with recurrent miscarriages, she started to curate ceremony boxes that were donated to her local hospital to support families and transform the way we address pregnancy and infant loss.