Em and I landed on Marylou and Ed’s doorstep with a van full of belongings and nowhere else to go.
We’d left a difficult and unhappy situation in a hurry not knowing where we would end up. We didn’t know many people on Skye, and we’d moved here to volunteer at an organic forest garden in exchange for accommodation; an arrangement that eventually fell apart. With one quick phone call, Ed offered us a home for as long as we needed. We came for a few days to catch our breath. We stayed for four months.
That was back in June – not long at all, really, but it’s been an intense and interesting summer. I can’t recall another time when I have learned so much about myself and my way of being in shared spaces, in families, in situations where I don’t have 100% control…and in spaces where I am being held, nurtured, protected. None of these spaces are comfort zones for me, but at Achnacloich our shared home of four adults and two children was a happy and beautiful bubble.
With Samhain and winter’s cold wind came change. Greylag geese returned to the island, their winter home. Flocks of darting redwings passed through on their yearly migration. Em and I moved to a home of our own, just over the hill, then helped our friends with their much bigger relocation to Argyll, to the new life they’ve been ready for for years. It was an exciting time of new beginnings, the stepping, for all of us, into a long-awaited next phase. Em and I wanted nothing more than a warm and comfortable space to be together over winter, Marylou, Ed and family had been seeking land to tend and cultivate and grow for a long long time. Yet at the same time, it was a wrench. Our bubble of love, laughter, and deep conversations was a source of sustenance and support to all of us over the past months.
How best to mark the change, the moment, the past and the future?
On the night of the dark moon in shadowy Scorpio, the eve of their moving, we gathered by the fire and held a goodbye ceremony. It was touching and beautiful and felt right for the moment, giving all of us a space to share our many and mixed feelings about the change, about goodbyes.
Goodbyes are a universal experience. I’m sharing the framework of the ceremony here with you so that, if you ever need it for yourself, you can adapt this one for your own goodbyes.
Planning and preparation
I wanted to create a ceremony that would meet two simple aims:
- To celebrate and give thanks for the time we spent together
- To acknowledge change and wish each other well on our onward journey
I spent a few days working with the intention of the ceremony, deciding on symbolic acts that we could perform that would meet our aims. I decided on a two-part ceremony to take place around a fire: We would create an altar together to celebrate and honour our time here, and in doing so, take turns sharing memories, giving thanks for what we have gained in this time. Then, we would light candles to represent our hopes for the future, and toast each other onwards with a ceremonial drink.
What was needed:
- A fire – ours was outside but you could do this indoors beside a fireplace if the weather was rough
- Candles in jars – one for the group, and one each for the people present
- A ceremonial drink – I used a jar of my homemade elderberry brandy
- An altar – we used a broad, flat tree stump, but you could set up a small table, a cloth on even-ish ground, or any other way of marking a space to place objects and candles.
- Each person was asked in advance to bring a symbolic object for the altar. (An example: I brought a rowan berry garland, which to me represented a source of abundance, creativity and protection during a time I had found personally challenging. Others brought a word on a piece of paper, a wand, an old screw.)
Holding the ceremony
Whilst the others put children to bed, cleaned and finished up packing boxes, I built a small fire outside, and placed four seats around it, and an altar. I made sure that I knew which direction was north, south, east and west.
I cleared a tree-stump for an altar and placed an unlit candle in the centre, then four unlit candles around it, with a lighter close by. I filled a jar with the elderflower brandy and waited for the others to arrive.
We held hands around the fire to create a circle, a sacred space. I called in the four directions – the east, the south, the west, and the north, and the energies they bring to our human lives. I stated the aims of the ceremony – to mark our time together and give thanks, and to see each other off to the next chapter.
It was now time to create an altar. I started by lighting the candle in the centre, with a few words about how it represented all of us together, our group, our family, our bubble. Then we took turns introducing the object we had brought to the ceremony, and talking about how it represented our time here. People spoke about lessons learned, how they had changed, that they were grateful for and more. It was touching, and very beautiful. When each person had finished speaking, they placed their item on the altar (or burned it in the fire).
Then it was time to look to the future, to wish each other well. One by one, we took an unlit candle from the altar, lit it from the collective candle, and, if we wanted to, spoke about our hopes for the future. Some people said a lot, other a little. It didn’t matter which. After speaking, we placed our candle of hope on the altar, and the brandy was passed around so each of us could toast the speaker and wish them well.
Then there was an open space for simply talking. Some beautiful thoughts were shared in the firelight.
We held hands again and I closed the ceremony with a few words of thanks and a big group hug, and then we simply hung out, laughing and talking, smoking and finishing up the brandy until it was time for bed.
It was a simple ceremony that meant a lot, creating space for each of us to check in with how we were feeling about the change, to say goodbye in a celebratory way that honoured the time we had had together. After doing this, I felt ready for the next chapter to begin, happy that I had truly said thank you, and goodbye.
Most of what I know and practice has been learned from the wonderful Glennie Kindred, author of many books exploring earthy spirituality, seasonal celebrations and our connection to land and spirit from a European and especially Celtic perspective.
I highly recommend her self-published book, Creating Ceremony, as an accessible, practical how-to guide for planning and holding your own rituals and sacred celebrations.