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Between Worlds: Communication Perspectives of Female Funeral Celebrants in British Columbia

An interactive, multimedia presentation

Sandra Ollsin

on 21 August 2012

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Transcript of Between Worlds: Communication Perspectives of Female Funeral Celebrants in British Columbia

Between Worlds: the abyss also looks into you."

Friedrich Neitzsche "When you look into the abyss, A funeral celebrant provides funeral, memorial or celebration-of-life services that are highly personalized, and reflect the beliefs, personality and lifestyle of the person who has died. “The visual has implications not only for the discourses of modernity and ethnographic practice, but also for our understandings of the individuals who are the subjects of ethnography” (Pink, 2006, p. 16). The Celebrants Susan Breiddal – Celebrant and Hospice
Counsellor also in private practice Pamela Harte – Celebrant, Retired School
Counsellor, Palliative Care Volunteer
(Photo/audio only throughout by request) Joyce Murphy – Celebrant,
Retired Nurse Norma Wellwood, past Celebrant
and Funeral Director Entering the unknown Witnessing what

unfolds IN THE EVENT OF DEATH: Supporting the process Using intuition and precognition Holding strong emotion Making sense of body language and other signals Being in the moment Temporal unfolding of the work Grieving as
Companioning Mourners at the
Threshold limen: a sensory threshold or subjective state between two different existential planes; characterized by ambiguity, uncertainty, and disorientation from established structures and hierarchies (Van Gennep, 1909; Turner, 1967)

liminality: characterizes the passage through the limen “The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy. One can experience an unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life, but as an aspect of life. Life in its becoming is always shedding death, and on the point of death. The conquest of fear yields the courage of life” (Campbell, 1988, p. 188). Crossing the threshold Experiencing liminal states Connecting with those in
liminal states Understanding liminal spatiality and temporality Healing potential of liminal grieving Living in the tension Channelling creative energy
through the limen Constantly facing the limen/death Affecting and being affected Everything is relationally constituted (Thrift, 2004). THE ART OF (IRRETRIEVABLE)
Ritual All performances are encounters
with the not-yet-known, aided by our intuition (Deleuze, 1983; Dewsbury, 2000). “That whole problem of breaking out of the field of waking consciousness into a field of dream consciousness is a basic problem of ritual… I would say the main function of ritual is to orient an individual to the dream consciousness level, which is the productive level… Dream consciousness is further in, and it’s a creative consciousness, whereas waking consciousness is a critical consciousness” (Campbell, 1990, p. 60). Bridging states through rites of passage Preparing Allowing for sacred space Integrating loss through
storytelling and mirroring Containing liminal energy Employing multimodality Making ritual participatory Respecting limits The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi (from Barks, 2004, p. 109)
To all those we’ve loved and lost who continue to affect our lives.
Barks, C. (2004). New York:
HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
Campbell, J. (1988). New York: Anchor Books.
Campbell, J. (1990).

Deleuze, G. (1983).
London: Athlone Press.
Dewsbury, J.D. (2000). Performativity and the event: Enacting a philosophy of
doi: 10.1068/d200t
Heelas, P., & Woodhead, L. (2005).

Blackwell Publishing.
Pink, S. (2006).
Thrift, N. (2004). Intensities of feeling: Towards a spatial politics of affect.
(1), 57-78. doi: 10.1111/j.0435-3684.2004.00154.x
Turner, V. (1967). Ithaca &
London: Cornell University Press.
Van Gennep, A. (1909). Paris: Emile Nourry. Translated by
Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee as Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1960, with an introduction by S.T. Kimball.

Susan Breiddal
Pamela Harte
Joyce Murphy
Norma Wellwood


Robert Birch
Michael Real
Phillip Vannini ★

Video/audiotaping by Don Ollsin
♪Music by Jonn Ollsin
☐Photographs by Sandra E. Ollsin An interactive, multimedia, visual ethnography Sandra E. Ollsin
Royal Roads University
© 2012 Trusting in and being open
to the process Special Thanks to: Communication Perspectives
of Female Funeral Celebrants
in British Columbia Witnessing,
Following, and
Engaging with
the Process References Just like lay chaplains of countless past societies, contemporary celebrants are called upon to perform as Masters of Ceremony for perfunctory and crisis-based societal rituals. These include marriages, baby-namings, end-of-life rituals, and other important life events. Celebrants who specialize in end-of-life rituals are known as funeral celebrants.

It is estimated that more than 1.1 billion people on the planet identify as non-religious. Of these, there is a growing contingent who identify as spiritual, but not religious (Heelas & Woodhead, 2005). As such, the role of the funeral celebrant exists in order to help these members of the general public design and perform customized end-of-life ceremonies.

The majority of funeral celebrants are women who predominantly attend to the ceremonial needs of spiritual, non-religious and/or mixed-faith, bereaved members of society. This is usually for a brief duration only --- from the time a death occurs to the time of burial or interment. Celebrants companion and guide bereaved initiands through facilitating rites and rituals of transition intended to help mourners through the initial stages of grief. Liminal states can be experienced as sacred and enticing or dangerous and frightening, depending on the context of the given situation. That is, who is experiencing the altered states, how skilled they are in negotiating them, and what kind of support they receive from others whilst navigating them. End-of-life ritual performance is a way to witness and acknowledge death, enter into moments of embodied experience, and move with the energies of life. Rituals are most successful when they are participatory, inclusive, and fully engage the senses. No two rituals are ever the same. The number of variables, and therefore possible outcomes, make them somewhat unpredictable. Funeral celebrants have developed a specific subculture based largely on process awareness and sensory-grounded capabilities for working with people in intense emotional and altered states of consciousness. Celebrants use their finely-tuned senses as proprioceptive tools to help them perceive and navigate these altered states while communicating with those who are bereaved. Thank you for engaging with the material presented here. I hope you found it to be of value. Upon exiting the Prezi you will find a comment section just below the main screen if you scroll down. I invite you to offer comments and enter into dialogue with other viewers about the subject(s) explored here.

Sandra Ollsin The essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. The power of myth. The hero's journey: Joseph Campbell on his life and work (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell). Novato, CA: New World Library. Nietzsche and philosophy, translated by H. Tomlinson. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 18, 473-496. The spiritual revolution: Why religion is giving way to spirituality (Religion and spirituality in the modern world). Oxford: The future of visual ethnography: Engaging the senses. New York: Geografiska Annaler 86 The forest of symbols: Aspects of Ndembu ritual. Rites de passage. The Rites of Passage, This qualitative inquiry into the life world of funeral celebrants takes the form of a visual ethnography. It is based on in-depth interviews completed with four, female funeral celebrants in British Columbia about the specialized kind of communication work that they do. It includes select video and audio clips of the celebrants speaking to three major themes that emerged during the interviews. Namely, the process-oriented nature of the work, companioning bereaved individuals through grief-induced liminal states of consciousness, and the art of irretrievable performance through facilitating affective, participatory ritual. With much gratitude for my loving family and all of their assistance and support.
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