I was honoured to lead a mother blessing for Charlotte in the summer of 2017. A small circle of us gathered in her garden under a bright sun. This is the story of her blessing day in her own words.
I feel shy and overwhelmed by the positive loving attention from my friends who have gathered together on this hot sunny morning to celebrate and bless me on my journey to motherhood for my third time. Shy but deeply content. This mother blessing is the fulfilment of a dream that has been whispering in my ear since my first pregnancy nine years ago now. It has taken until now, my third child and fifth pregnancy to finally pluck up the courage to give myself the gift of this mother blessing ceremony.
Why courage you might wonder? Isn’t a mother blessing a bit like a baby shower only the focus is on you instead of the baby? Wouldn’t it be just fun and delightful like a kind of birthday party? Well yet it is, but for me I needed courage to overcome the conditioning of not making a fuss, not spending on myself for something more than absolute necessity, and courage to hand over the organisation and sit back to be waited on all day. My inner critic would have me believe it was all needless fuss and frivolity.
Receiving so much love and attention on me, just for being me, and becoming a mother again, was at first an excruciating challenge. I would shy away from that kind of attention in the past. But like most challenges it was worth it. Giving myself permission to be seen, heard, loved, carried and blessed in this way was powerful beyond measure.
From the moment my first guests arrived and bade me sit, relax and do nothing I cried. My heart burst open with love and gratitude. I felt raw emotion release from a full heart that had been holding back and holding it together for others, for my family. Now it was my time to receive.
Awen opened the circle with words of blessing as she carefully crafted a circle of flowers as a headdress and laid it on my head with accompanying words of wisdom and honour.
My discomfort gradually dissolved into joy and gratitude as I gazed round the circle at my smiling friends. They were witness to all my hopes and dreams for this birth and I felt my dreams come closer as I named each intention. Awen lead each of us in turn to choose brightly coloured embroidery silks, each person naming why they had chosen the thread and what they wished for me as they tied it around another candle that I named the ‘Mother Candle’. This candle would be lit during my labour to release the energy of these prayers for me and I would find myself catching sight of this candle in the intervening weeks and feel it smiling at me, the remembered words warming my heart again. Everyone also received a candle to take home and light to hold me in the light and energy of our prayers as I birthed in the dark. (At least that was the plan- he came in the day so it was pretty bright daylight! but I felt the love.) Everyone also tied a bracelet of red wool around their wrist. Tied with prayer and intent it would be cut once I was in labour to symbolise the release of the holding period and support the safe release of my baby earthside.
My midwife mixed a personalised bottle of massage oil, joyfully choosing several essential oils from her box. She then anointed my feet and belly, and everyone added more words of blessing and support. We also blessed a Jasmine plant I had purchased that would be planted after my child was born to celebrate.
One of my favourite parts was the singing. We sang together as a circle, a simple song that originates from Cameroon – Bele Mama. The words mean ‘Call Mother’ and I could feel the huge power of the mother energy we were calling in surround us and embrace us all in love. I felt connected to my child, to myself as a mother, to the mothers around the world and to our ancestors who had gone before us; all of us as one sacred circle of love and power.
Then a surprise that I hadn’t planned. My friends had clubbed together and commissioned a Gambian artist to make some Tied Die cloth for me (My husband is from the Gambia) I was touched by this and also so full of joy that there were no tears this time just happiness.
And of course, after all the spiritual blessing fun came some seriously fun food gifted by my friends who’d cooked, bought, served and then washed up after it all too. Every mouthful and every moment was delicious and to be savoured.
I wonder if I can ever convey the true depth of what I created with Awen that morning in the sunshine in words here. Creating sacred ceremony for myself where I was the centre of the circle rather than the last to get my needs met as an afterthought, if time allowed, was powerful beyond measure. It was a statement loud and clear to the universe that I mattered. I was a person of value, someone worthy of being celebrated.
I was held throughout in a circle of love. All that I had ever been, who I was becoming, and who I was right then in all my imperfect humanness was welcome. I was loved even as I was changing, unsure of who exactly I would be as I became a mother for the third time. The love filled me up. It filled a gap that is present in our society.
We yearn deeply for this kind of ritual celebration. We yearn for the connection, belonging and meaning that this kind of event offers. All too often what we get is surface level party where the focus is on the baby. The mother is invisible. We, as new mothers, struggle with the shifting identity as almost everything about our old identity is falling away. We need time, space and love to hold us and remind us of who we are beyond the changes. To support us as we journey through this transition.
On this morning of sunshine and blessings I received my reminder along with so much love and connection to my friends and to Divine Mother energy. The energy of the morning uplifted me and the beautiful memories we created that day still make me smile and lift my heart on dark days nearly two years on and I am sure will do so for the rest of my life. It was a true blessing and I invite you, dear reader to answer the calling in your own heart and soul and celebrate you in all your wonderfulness in each of your own life transitions.
Charlotte Kanyi is a mother of three lively boys and founder of BirthEssence. She helps overwhelmed women transform their terror of birth and heal unresolved trauma so they can reconnect to their baby, rediscover their self belief and confidently create the birth they secretly dream of. She offers pregnancy and postnatal massage and 1-2-1 birth confidence sessions.
When not working she loves to spend time in nature, be it climbing trees with her family, bivouacking in wild places or transforming her neglected garden into a multipurpose sanctuary.
You can catch up with her on Facebook here. or follow her writing and access a free meditation here.
Charlotte recently interviewed me about my work with mothers and the sacred journey through our rites of passage. You can listen to that interview here.
People often ask me what a handfasting is and I often talk about the practice at the beginning of my ceremonies because many of the guests won’t know what it is either. So here is a brief outline of where handfasting originates and how we use it now in a modern wedding ceremony context.
In medieval times, getting married was much simpler than it is today. Two people could choose to privately make ‘consents’, that is to say make promises to one another and would be considered married by the state. Then in time it was more common to be married and make those consents in ‘the face of the church’, which was in fact on the porch of the church rather than inside it, getting married inside the church being only for the wealthy until much later in history.
However during this time period there was also another practice common in the Celtic areas of what we now know as England, Ireland and Scotland, that being the practice of ‘Handfasting’. This was the binding of the hands of a couple by way of betrothal to one another, as a promise to be married in the future. The word handfasting comes from the Anglo-Saxon and means ‘the shaking or joining of the hands over a contract’. This older practice of betrothal is where the phrases of ‘tying the knot’ and ‘getting hitched’ come from.
Often regarded as a typically pagan tradition, increasingly couples not on a pagan path (though often alternative in their spirituality) are choosing to use handfasting in their wedding ceremonies. They are using it as a way of showing commitment or of spiritually confirming a marriage in sight of friends and family.
As a modern day ceremony practice, the couple’s hands are bound whilst they make vows and promise to each other, just as in a traditional wedding. Depending on their spiritual beliefs, their hands may then be blessed as well. A modern addition to the tradition is to invite other members of family, often parents or children, to come forward and tie additional ribbons around the couple’s hands to add their love and wishes for the couple or to symbolise the coming together of a family.
Whilst a handfasting is not a legal wedding in England (it can be done legally in Scotland), a celebrant led handfasting ceremony is a beautiful addition or extension to any legal wedding ceremony you might choose to have. Often couples will have a quiet, private legal ceremony ahead of the handfasting, with the handfasting ceremony day being the bigger celebration with friends and family and the big party!
If you think you might be interested in having a handfasting ceremony with me, do be in touch.
Awen Clement is an experienced, independent civil celebrant and pagan priest based in Birmingham in the West Midlands. Through this blog she hopes to offer you ideas, inspiration and comfort around planning weddings, handfastings, baby namings and funeral services.