Making it up as you go along...

Rhiannon Hanfman on the importance of ceremony particularly at Findhorn and her reflections on how r


Jonathan Dawson is away so I am filling in for him for the next couple of weeks and I would like to pick up the theme of ritual that he touched on in writing about a recent death in our community. At Findhorn we do rituals rather well. Rather than rely on an established forms, we make them up as we go along so our ceremonies are alive and meaningful to those who take part. We have had rather a lot of funerals in the last couple of years and no two were alike yet each was deeply moving and appropriate to the individual being honoured.

News of a different kind of ritual came to my notice in the last week. David and Ilsemarie, a couple who have been married for 12 years or more decided to separate and have chosen to mark this event with a Ceremony of Separation. Initially I thought this was, well, strange but on reflection the idea grew on me. Separation and divorce have become a common rite of passage in our society so why should we not mark it in a conscious way that does not apportion blame or bring rancour and resentment.

Although divorce is no longer a recipe for social ruin, the end of a marriage still brings a sense of failure or shame and a feeling that someone must be to blame. No one celebrates it. Children are wounded, friends take sides and lawyers benefit from the couple remaining at war. Nobody wins.

In this community we try to find better and more loving ways of doing things and this ceremony was a kinder means of dealing with what was potentially a painful situation. This separation was not celebrated but neither was it mourned, nor was the occasion used to air old wounds. David and Ilsemarie symbolically untied the knots that bound them in a detrimental way, and in love and friendship let the other go. It was done in a way that brought healing rather than hurt and that must be a good thing.

This reminded me of another unusual ceremony I attended a few years ago. A young couple I know who lived together and had a baby but were not married had what they called a Family Blessing. It was not a wedding or a christening or a 1st birthday party for the child, though the ceremony had elements of all these things. Their purpose it seemed to me was to show their commitment and say to their friends, ‘Hey, we’re a family.’

We humans seem to have an innate need to publicly and symbolically mark the end of one phase of life and the beginning of another. It’s a way of saying ‘ this is important, this is really happening’. If we can create rituals that reflect what is real and genuine for us at a particular point, they are not merely empty forms but are alive and so enliven us. Our rituals, whether of celebration, grief or simply acknowledging what is, bind us together, strengthen us and bring us joy and healing.

Rhiannon Hanfman is a freelance writer/editor/designer and has been associated with the Findhorn community for more than 20 years. She has a background in theatre, publishing and science. She abandoned the science to go and live at Findhorn and currently does design work for the Findhorn Foundation and facilitates Game of Transformation workshops.

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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.