(Personalised Naming ceremony cake, made especially for our daughters).
In life, we go through many transitions and changes. Some momentous and celebratory, other more general, but still representative and important none the less.
In recent years, as the modern Neo-Pagan movement and its many branches have grown, and with that, less public hostility and more societal openness and acceptance, so too has the pagan community’s open and willingness to recognise important life, and death markers.
A simple google search will bring up a host of professional Pagan celebrants within the U.K, even the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids have a list of recognised celebrants within the order.
We have moved into an era where it is no longer hushed and secretive to celebrate important milestones in life. One such important milestone is that of a naming ceremony, also known as “Welcoming” and occasionally a “Wiccaning” within some circles (largely, I have noticed, in American culture and appears to be a play on the word Christening).
But why are such celebrational rituals important, and are they just a bastardisation of the Christian ritual of baptism?
In the case of the latter; no, I do not believe that a naming is an almost copy-cat of the Christian tradition. In the namings I have attended I have never seen a Pagan child baptised by water or in a holy place, such as a church. Nor have I seen a child dedicated to just one deity, against their will, at an age where they cannot decide who, and indeed if any deity they would like to follow.
However, I have observed the many varieties in celebration and ritual for a naming. To me, this is part of the beauty of Paganism, being free of doctrine and almost like a great tree with its many branches, there are no right or wrong within the ceremony.
Some choose an outdoor location, as we did. Others choose to hire a hall or use their own garden. The options are endless!
Some parents have a quiet ceremony with just family and close friends, others have a big celebration with a High Priestess, High Priest or Celebrant leading the ceremony.
Some parents and celebrants ask certain deities to guide and protect the presented child or children, without forcebly dedicating or binding them to said deity. Others choose to not mention specific God or Goddess figures at all.
The possibility and variation for creativity within a naming are almost unlimited.
But what of my first question? Why are such celebrational rituals and ceremonies important?
For me, as a Pagan Witch, Celebrant, speaker, Chaplain and Mother, I see such ceremonies as important markers of the journey we make through life. A pivotal turning point in our life’s journey. One that can cement our direction and celebrate its meaning.
There are many transistions we make in life that are worthy of celebration and marking. Naming is but one of them. There are marriages/handfasting’s, coming of age/moonings, entering into servitude as a community Priest or Priestess and of course, the final marker, death; the journey we must all make into the next realm, or whatever we as individuals believe comes next for our spirits.
To me however, a naming is a truly special occasion. The marking of new life and welcoming that new life into not only the family and tribe, but also the community.
This “Community” element was very important to both my partner and I when planning both our daughters naming ceremony. Both being very active in the North West of England’s Pagan community (both celebrants and lead talks, workshops etc) we wanted to make sure that all of our friends, family and acquaintances; who perhaps had never attended a naming before, would have the chance to share this special day.
It was very hard for me, initially, to move from my beloved East Anglia to the wild and rugged North West of England. But one thing I have always been greatful for is just how close and welcoming the Pagan community is here. It seems most people from Liverpool to Yorkshire are all connected in some form or another. Be that via mutual friends on social media or through the running of Moots or fantastic gatherings such as Woodspirit and PaganCon.
Our youngest daughter was born prematurely this year and spent the first five months of her life in a children’s hospital, switching constantly (it seemed) from the neonatal ward, to intensive care, and from there to HDU. It was the North West Pagan community that came to our aid and supported us. Coming second only to our family. They truly are our tribe.
Between us, as a couple, we had hundreds of messages via text and social media wishing us strength and our daughter healing. Not only this, people within the community were sending us photo’s of candles and altars, focused on different deities, depending on who the person worked with. Set to the intention of sending healing to our daughter. We even had many Reiki practitioners offering to send distance healing. One even as far away as Hasting’s, Sussex! (Thank you, this person).
This doesn’t include the amount of wonderful visitors we had and offers from people to send us home cooked meals and gifts of baby blankets and premature sized baby outfits.
It was because of the outpouring of love from the community that we, as a family wanted to make this naming a community event.
Usually with a naming ceremony, it is for one baby or perhaps twins. But ours was different in that my eldest daughter, who is not the biological daughter of my fiancé, also joined and had her ceremony alongside her baby sister. This is due to the fact that she never got to have her own as a baby, as sadly, her biological father was a domestic abuser. We were rarely allowed out of the house, let alone an important life ceremony. It was this combining of two children of different ages that made this naming all the more special, and, to an extent, really healing.
My eldest, finally got the naming she deserved and chose to take on both my maiden name and her stepfathers name (It is important to add that this is not legally recognised though, a name change must have a legal process. However, within the community she chose to have what will be my married name and what is already her sisters name).
My second daughter got to not only celebrate her naming – but also the fact she had, by the grace of the Gods an a frankly fantastic team of surgeons and geneticists, survived. Together, we celebrated coming together as an entire family unit.
In a way we were not just presenting our children to extended family, community, Gods and Ancestors, but ourselves as a newly formed family unit. Which, for my eldest daughter and I, was like the happy ending to a fairy tale – especially considering what we had both gone through in previous years.
It was as though our scars were sealed and knitted together in this new family union and blessing, and the wounds we had all suffered in spending months in a Children’s hospital, never knowing if our youngest would ever make it were also blessed and healed.
If we take into account healing alone, we have validation for a naming. Yet it is all the stronger when we add in unity, bond, blessing and the beginning of a new family chapter.
So yes, no matter what a family’s background or current situation, I feel such celebrational rituals are important and shouldn’t, if possible, go unmarked.
But what of the finer details of the ceremony? How did we plan the ceremony and what did we incorporate.
Well, our first step was to plan what we wanted for the girls, and that was an outdoor event in a well worked local woodland (this particular woods is worked by several Pagan groups). An outdoor event, we felt, would not only be closer to nature and the elements, but grounding to those who perhaps were attending and not of the Pagan community and for the numerous giddy children we were expecting.
Numerous giddy children…
With this, it brought its own necessities. With our oldest daughter being nearly six and us, as a couple being in our early thirties, we knew many of our friends would be bringing children. Being both a Naming and a community event, we would never exclude children from attending – the way some do with fancy weddings. Instead, we resolved to book an absolutely amazing children’s entertainer, who is not only fantastic at her work, but is also very active within the Pagan Community. Freyja the fairy kept any children who did not want to participate in the ritual busy with arts and crafts. Afterwards she proceeded to deliver what can only be described as being like a mini festival for the children! Disco music, sand art and eco glitter tattoos.
(The wonderful Freyja the fairy)
Our next step was to find a Celebrant or HP/HPS to perform the ceremony. My partner and I went through the list of usual suspects within the community when it suddenly dawned on me, that having a friend, who although was not an official celebrant, was active, spiritual and confident in his practice was actually the best person for the job. Not only were the beforementined attributes desirable, he was a close family friend and his children are good friends to my eldest daughter. It turned out, we had made the right decision – he was absolutely wonderful!
(Celebrant, Mark Collier and friend/photographer Jason Smalley drumming the circle)
Together, we planned the ceremony. The celebrant would lead, but my partner and I would have active roles too.
There have been two specific deities prevalent in our lives as a family and we wanted to invite them into the circle. Not to dedicate our children to them. We firmly believe it is their choice who they will or will not work with as they grow. Instead we simply ask that these deities would guide and protect our daughters in the mean time.
It was agreed that I would call to the Goddess Brigid, and my partner would call to Mannanan. The Manx God of the sea.
Here is the calling I wrote and recited to Brigid:
“Hail to you Brigid of the flame!
Sacred mother and midwife,
One who safely helped bring these two
cherished daughters into this earthly realm.
Forger of not only metal, but promises, bonds and unities,
Be with us this day and forever guide this family.
Brigid of the flame.
Brigid of the holy wells.
Brigid the birther and forger.
Brigid of divine inspiration.
Unify and bless this family today.”
After this, my partner and I felt it crucial that the ceremony did not leave out the ancestors. They are, after all, in our personal practice and belief with us all the time and ever guiding us.
I had dedicated two years to researching family trees and even creating an ancestor lantern (a lantern I made with a family tree on it going back to 1790, to be lit at Samhain or ceremonies such as this). As such it was decided that I would call the ancestors.
I chose a method I created in East Anglia of calling or marking a circle, this involves the use of a hag stone on a black cord that is swung in a circular motion while walking the circle.
(The handmade Ancestor lantern)
While doing this I would call:
“Ancestors and Family in spirit,
Be with us in joy and love this day!
You are welcome within this circle to
Celebrate and bless the new generation.
I call upon the Ancestors of the Kelly line.
Join and be welcome!
I call upon the Ancestors of the Buxton line.
Join and be welcome!
I call upon the Holmes and Baxter lines.
Join and be welcome!
I call upon the Willis and Weston lines.
Join and be welcome!
I call upon the Allsop and Greenacre lines.
Join and be welcome!
I call upon the Howe and MCcrory line.
Join and be welcome!
And if there are any other ancestor not here mentioned on
this most blessed of days, and still wish to join, celebrate and guide
This new generation, we welcome you too and offer you thanks”
As parents, we then designed our parental vows to our daughters.
Here is an example of mine:
“Evelynn and Niamh, I promise to always love you both equally
With the fullness of not just my heart, but with my soul too.
I vow to always do my upmost best to protect you both from harm, but
At the same time, encourage and enable you to be the best you can be.
To live life to the full and take chances.
I promise that when in life you stumble, fall or make mistakes, I will do
My best to remain patient and help you back on your feet.
I vow never to force you to lead a path that I think is best for you, but instead encourage and support your life choices.
I promise to dedicate my life to you and my family, and not even personal calling’s shall overtake this.
I promise to wipe your tears when you cry and cheer you on in your triumphs.
I will always be your mother, but I vow to also be a friend, guide, teacher and supporter.
This I Vow to you in the presence of this, our community, our family, the ancestors and the Great God and Goddess.
So shall it be!”
(The giving of Parental vows)
The only thing left in the planning of the naming ceremony was the life guides for the children…
Somthing akin to God parents, but less formal. A person or person’s our daughter’s could look up to and ask for advice if needed.
In the end we chose three life guides each- and importantly, not all from the Pagan community. As a couple we joked that the girls should be able to get “Muggle” advice from time to time too, as well as from that of those in the Pagan community (Chuckles).
The life guides joined us in the circle and also made vows to the girls. Which was deeply moving.
The final aspect of planning, after invites, location etc was to choose a really special cake. My eldest had specifically asked for one, but everything we found was solely for Christenings.
Disheartened, I eventually bit the bullet and approached a cake shop in town. I explained we wanted a cake, suitable for a naming ceremony and enquired if they would be willing to adapt the Bible cake with the crucifix into a Book of Ways (our family version of a book of Shaddows) and possibly substitute the crucifix for a pink triquetra…
After a somewhat confused look from the shopkeeper, she phoned her manager and explained what it was I wanted, and to my relief she accepted, with no extra charge! I was relieved, a part of me expected hostility at asking for a Christian designed cake to be adapted into a Pagan one. But no, instead I was assisted and received no judgement. A true testament to how far the British public has become more respectful and tolerant to other faiths and spritualities. And as you can see from the photo at the start of the blog, the cake was stunning!
After the cost of the cake and children’s entertainment- which was not much, but we are also saving for a Wedding. We decided to ask guests to bring food to share for a community picnic for after the ceremony.
When the time came, I was stunned! Forget picnic! It was more like a banquet. We still have cakes and biscuits left over a week later!
That Saturday afternoon, I left the woods, after the ceremony, feeling revived, blessed, healed and unified. Not only as a Mother, but as a partner, family and community member. It felt as though a new day had dawned for my family, that we had been blessed and recognised in the presence of loved ones and together now, we would begin a new chapter. Truth be told, my youngest daughter knew little to nothing as to what was going on that day, but my eldest daughter was delighted! Saying she felt like a “Big girl” now and “We have a big family now Mummy, I really love it!”.
The conclusion to the day and of the naming ceremony was that it was simple, yet perfect and powerful. Healing and joyous!
I hope you have enjoyed this blog and if you are looking to do a Naming for your children, that you were able to glean some ideas of how to or even, how not to do your ceremony!
I wish you all the very best!
Note: if you enjoyed this blog, you can find others and future blogs on Facebook via the pages “Brythonic and Beyond” and “Woman of the woods”