smudging or saging a ceremony space

smudging or saging a ceremony space


Ceremony and ritual can be very simple or very powerful, but there is an innate human need to honour rites of passage in our lives.  Whether it is in celebration of the uniting of a couple, marking a change of season, having a birthday or anniversary; the welcoming of a baby or child into the tribe or farewelling a loved one. Until you experience a need to cleanse a sacred place it’s hard to imagine how beneficial and powerful it can really be or why you would even do it.  Here’s why I do it when possible…


The first time I cleansed my home with smoke it was completely intuitive.  You’re welcome to ask me more about it, but let’s say I was compelled to create a welcoming and safe environment and felt strongly the need to banish any negative energy.  Not sure if it was luck or otherwise, but it really, really worked for me and I’ve been a convert ever since.  The role of ‘saging’ smoking or ‘smudging’ a space, outdoor or indoor comes from many ancient tribes and customs across the world.  Using the natural antiseptic qualities of white sage (there are also other products) and moving around the site and the people who enter it can create something sacred as a foundation to conduct a ceremony or ritual.


In my opinion, this cleansing is something that is particularly important in a crematorium chapel, which can sometimes be described as a ‘factory of sadness’.  To come into this place to honour an individual and their significant life, a clearing of the space beforehand feels like the right thing to do.  Many find the smell of the smoke comforting and although some funeral staff look at you with wariness, if it is right for the family in their time of grief, then they are served well by the ritual.

There is something very simple in the smudging of a ceremony site, but also something grounding and profound too.  Give it a shot next time you are starting a new venture, moving offices or homes or conducting a ceremony.  You might just feel the difference.

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Children in a wedding ceremony

Children in a wedding ceremony

Sex before marriage!!! What??!!

With one third of all first-born Australian babies born to un-wed parents it is little surprise that so many weddings these days involve one or more little ones.

It is important that the children of the bride and/or groom are acknowledged on these special occasions.  Although the wedding is certainly centred on the joining of the bride and groom, the ceremony itself is about love and family and those small people cannot be excluded or ignored.

We’ve come a long way from the wedding practices of not so long ago.  In one of my favourite retro resources ‘Australian Guide to Etiquette’ c.1970 Barbara Murray-Smith says, “If a divorce has taken place, it is not in good taste for young children of the first marriage of either bride or groom to be present at the wedding ceremony. In this case, it is more tactful for the couple to be married with only legal witnesses.”  Thank goodness that practise has changed.

Children add an entirely different energy to a ceremony and if the bride and groom are relaxed about their presence and involvement, the kids can also add an extra air of wonder and magic.

There are loads of wonderful ways to involve children in a wedding ceremony no matter what their age.  Vanessa and Gavin included a brilliant blending of coloured sand to include his two children from a previous marriage and the couple’s new-born baby.  The sand ceremony was a perfect piece of symbolism for the new and blended family they were creating together.

Marie and Ben had their three beautiful daughters walk down the aisle as flower-girls ahead of their mum and created that wonderful sense of family as they all came together at the top of the aisle.

It’s about doing it well, with lots of fore-thought and being unfazed by the unpredictable.  I always say the BEST weddings have got a ‘rogue element’ and children can be a wonderful leveller in an environment of high-nerves.

Photography by Lara Hotz and Lucie Leka

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Destination Wedding – Fiji

Destination Wedding – Fiji

Choosing the perfect location to exchange your marriage vows can be one of the more stressful parts of planning a wedding. But what if you want to get married in a tropical paradise? The reasons for choosing one location over another can be as individual and unique as the couple themselves.

In the last few years I’ve had the joyous pleasure of travelling to Fiji with two very special couples to ‘tie the knot’. Each bride and groom had their own reasons to decide on such a wedding location but the results will be remembered for a lifetime, not only the couple, but their families, friends and certainly by yours truly.

Jill and Mike picked a remote island that they could hire for the whole day’s festivies. Catering, entertainment and island activities were all part of the Tivua Island package. It was truly an extraordinary experience to have the luxury of our very own island paradise for a whole day. Lush really. What a day it was! A brilliant, relaxed and fun wedding day. The dancing on the boat as we returned at sunset was an added bonus.

Kachiri and James had changed locations a number of times in the lead-up to their big day and thought they might marry in the highlands out of Sydney. In their hearts, their dream wedding destination had always been the place that James had proposed – Fiji. So in the end Fiji it was! Mana Island to be exact. It was truly spectacular and everything fell into place to make it the most magical of weddings. All was perfection.


Cheer Wedding Photography Fiji

Congratulations to these two awesome couples for choosing a wedding in paradise and thank you for taking me along for the ride – very blessed.

(All legal obligations in relation to the marriages took place in Australia prior to departure, so the wedding ceremony was purely focussed on love)

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The Service Provider

The Service Provider

The story of Katie and Owen is a beautiful way to illustrate the very broad role of a celebrant and also highlight the ‘difficult to explain’ things that the role includes and that are challenging to articulate on an Invoice.  A good celebrant can often unwittingly end up spreading their duties way beyond bringing a nice signing pen to the wedding, choosing the appropriate words for the occasion or wearing the right shoes.

I was introduced to Owen and Katie through a good friend of mine in 2009 and had the pleasure of conducting their joyous wedding ceremony in the December of that year, surrounded by the beautiful paperbarks of Centennial Park.  They had already been together for nine years and we spoke of the history of those beautiful trees we stood amongst.

Here, under these trees that have proven they can stand the test of time, Owen and Katie want to vow the endurance of the love they share. Bending with the seasons, their relationship will protect the other from the challenges that will surely come.  Like these trees, their roots will entwine and together with sunshine and optimism, they will strengthen and support each other with the foundations of trust, friendship and loyalty.”

Such perfect words for a radiant couple whose love for each other was obvious for all to see.  A couple of years down the track and Katie and Owen were over-joyed to fall pregnant. Then they were thrown a curve-ball when Katie was seven months pregnant, Owen was diagnosed with cancer.  He fought valiantly and positivity and gathered the strength to be present for the birth of his daughter, Emma.  Every breath she took was an incentive for Owen to fight against this disease and to be present for all of her milestones.  This, however, was not meant to be and as Emma headed towards her 1st birthday the illness took an untreatable turn. It was decided to bring Emma’s Naming Day forward earlier than her planned 1st birthday.

After being contacted by Katie we put together a wonderful Naming Ceremony for their daughter and as Owen was in poor health, we sat together in his parent’s lounge room and invited golden light into the circle of gathered friends and family to celebrate Emma’s special day.

During the course of Owens illness Katie and Owen had gone to extraordinary lengths not only to fight the disease but truly consolidate their bond in the face of Owen’s potential death. They had done this in a way I had never seen before, communicating openly and honestly about their experiences giving each other enormous strength throughout each confronting situation. Sadly, three weeks after Emma’s Naming Ceremony Katie called to say that Owen had died.

So with a heavy heart the private funeral with close family and friends was written and performed.  It was extremely challenging to stand amongst those same faces that just a few years before had been sharing the joy of their wedding day and had sat tightly together for Emma’s naming ceremony.

A few days after the funeral, celebrant, wife, parents, uncle and best friends organized what was an intensely emotional meeting to plan a memorial that was held the following week at a public venue.  Both ceremonies were heart-wrenching, yet Katie’s choices and actions throughout the Funeral and Memorial were inspirational and a true testament to the depth of her relationship with Owen. As is often the case Emma was such a blessing and wonderful distraction. Owen’s parents, shattered by the circumstances, were amazing in standing tall beside Katie.

A month or so after the memorial service again we gathered in the same park where Katie and Owen had been married, for Emma’s first birthday.  For whatever reasons, it felt right that I should attend.  This was another big milestone for the family. There was no professional role required but to be present for hugs and a chat with a group of people whom I had shared some incredible highs and lows. Another challenging day, but a day that deserved happiness as well as remembrance.

At a certain point through the day Owen’s father quietly took me aside, a giant, astute businessman not afraid to call a spade a spade, and shared with me “About your invoice…. I thought it should have been twice as much”.

And there it was.  Yes, it is a job.  Yes, you are providing a service.  It can be exhausting and stressful, like running any business. It can fill you up and deplete you all at the same time. It can also be a life-changing experience for everyone; a building of relationships; an exercise in ultimate trust and a little bit of magic along the way.  The rewards go both ways and when your work is valued, it’s even better.

Gratitude does not begin to cover the many emotions felt when thinking of this family. In those big moments they have opened their hearts and arms and trusted I would do absolutely the very, very best by them …… for that, I have no words.

With thanks and love to Katie Denoon for giving permission to share Owen and her story and photographs.

Kylie Dunlop Photography

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Weddings that raise the bar…

How to create an awesome wedding!

Every wedding is unique, every wedding is special in its own way, but there are some that have an alchemy of all the right elements and an energy to really raise the bar on the rest.  Sometimes it is almost impossible to pinpoint why or what makes one wedding stand out from another.  The one that I want to talk about today may not be the one that is at the top of the list tomorrow.  For now though, I have to share Jerusha and Andy’s wedding story.


Firstly, let’s put it out there… these guys are my closest friends and we are part of a tribe that is very close-knit with an emphasis on digging at the ‘marrow of life’.  Already they have an unfair advantage.  Working against them however, was the knowledge that because we knew each other so well, there was always a chance we might over-step the mark.


So let it be known that I couldn’t be prouder of the ceremony we created together.  It truly was a team-effort and let me show you why it was a stand-out.


Constructing the Wedding Ceremony


Knowing the run or structure of a ceremony, we wanted to break it down.  Knowing its flexibility, we wanted to challenge people’s perceptions, but keep them totally engaged and ‘keep it real’ (i.e. authentic and personal).  We wanted it to feel intimate;  always a challenge in an outdoor-setting and the vast expanse of the Australian landscape as a backdrop.  Frankly, we wanted it all.


Wedding setting

Wedding in Australia











The Wedding Opening


The setting was Mali Brae Farm.   Very rural.  Very Australian.  In tipping our hat to the groom’s English heritage and the bride’s (and celebrant’s) love of theatre, before anything began, our mate, and fellow thespian Ben, took the roll of Town Crier.   Through some carefully written words and perfect Shakespeare-like execution, he succeeded in injecting energy and hilarity into the start of the proceedings.  (Already we had everyone on their toes)


For whom the bell tolls

The Town Crier



The opening of the ceremony was emotional and symbolic with the groom and his family from England walking from one dwelling on the farm, joining in embrace with his Australian bride and her family at the top gate of the paddock.  (A marvellous moment)


The embrace before entering the space

Families of the bride and groom embrace at the top of the aisle



The families then proceeded down the aisle then followed the bride and groom together – equal.


From there, the story-telling began.  There we laughs and tears and a bunch of in-jokes.  It will be noted that some guests chose to just cry all the way through, laughing included.


Wedding guests

Family and friends































In the gentle heart of the ceremony we acknowledged the recent death of the groom’s mum.  This moment of remembrance was naturally moving but also breath-takingly beautiful.  I won’t give too much away as it was incredibly personal but ask me and I’ll tell you some time.



A very touching moment.

A rose representing the groom’s mum is pinned by the bride.



To shake everyone up we had a ceremony pledge.  That got the crowd thinking.  It’s so much fun to do and very cheeky.


The Time Capsule


From other blog posts you will know I’m all about ‘colour and movement’ (i.e. Ritual)  Symbolism and ritual can add that other memorable layer to a ceremony and really get everyone thinking.


This moment came from a number of ideas and bringing them altogether.  The wine box ceremony is wonderful to incorporate into any wedding, particularly if the bride and groom have an affinity with the fermented grape. (I’ll talk further about this one in another post.)  The time capsule is equally a brilliant idea for a future reflection and reminiscence of an extraordinary day in the lives of a couple.  Also, a good opportunity to cellar a bottle of plonk to imbibe while delving into the capsule in the future.



The bride and groom, having friends from all over the world, liking a bit of vino and wanting to keep the bride’s dad Brian off the streets for a few weeks, commissioned Brian to create a time-capsule/wine box.  He did a brilliant job.


Ritual in Ceremony

Time capsule and wine box ceremony together



The whole ceremony was a rippa and it set the tone for the rest of the day, as a good ceremony should.


Much love and thanks to Jerusha and Andy for allowing me to share their story.

Big hugs to Alex Vaughan Photographer for the beautiful images.

Celebrant Bride and Groom

Best wedding ever!


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Something old, something new….and something crowd funded

Something old, something new….and something crowd funded

Let me tell you the story of a beautiful bride, let’s call her Cinderella.  She had carefully budgeted her wedding costs down to the last dollar and after purchasing a practical yet not flamboyant pair of bridal shoes with which she could safely perform her stunningly choreographed bridal waltz, she was left feeling somewhat deflated knowing in her heart her perfect bridal shoes were waiting on the shelf of a fabulous shoe shop in the East of Sydney.   You see, Cinderella had been left broken-hearted by those shoes because although they were her ‘dream wedding shoes’, they were a little over-budget and a little high for that bridal waltz.  (First world problem?  Sure.  But tragic nonetheless.)   Cinderella told the sad story to her “Maidzillaz” on the night of her Hen’s, about the extraordinary day she walked by the shop to look lovingly, but sadly, upon those bridal-shoes-that-wouldn’t-be, when the owner of the shoe shop suddenly gave Cinderella an offer almost too amazing to believe.  First she reduced the special shoes by $300, knowing from the sad look in Cinderella’s eyes that she loved those shoes dearly.  Then she dropped the price by $400, seeing that the cost was still out of Cinderella’s reach. However, next she took the price down by a whopping $600 as Cinderella backed-away forlorn out of the doors of the shoe shop.   Yes, this was an incredibly huge leap from very expensive pair of French designer shoes to a suddenly very affordable pair.  Cinderella however, knew her budget was limited and needed to be able to eat in the next two days and the shoes were still worth a few buckets of Kale, Quinoa and Chia (she was an Eastern Suburbs bride after-all).   The Maidzillaz, being compassionate souls and fashionistas at heart, heard this sad story and saw it for what it was… an absolute travesty!  Something had to be done!  Cinderella MUST go to the ball. So the Maidzillaz emptied all the small change out of their purses and money jars and pooled their coins together from behind couches and under cushions and car-seats to go to this ‘lady shoe-store owner’ and re-kindle the ‘bargain of a life-time’ and buy Cinderella her ‘goddammit she must have ‘em dream bridal shoes’.   And so at dusk, in the backyard of a Kangaroo Valley Pub, the Maidzillaz summoned the bride and explained to her that by the power of love, magic and crowd-funding Cinderella could indeed go to the ball in her dream wedding shoes.   And wasn’t she just the belle of the ball. XX

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Colour and Movement

Colour and Movement

Those who know me well would agree that my all-time favourite pairing is that of ‘colour and movement’.  A combination that is versatile across so many platforms from theatre to styling, dress sense and much, much more.

Creatively I look for it within ceremonies as I often believe it is that added bit of magic that takes the wedding, funeral or naming day to that next level.

Symbolism personifies colour and movement.  At a wedding ceremony is often that wonderful extra layer you can add to the experience of your ceremony for all your guests.  Particularly if it is a visual element where the symbolic gesture you make is given a strong grounding and context.  Don’t be afraid of it.  Some rituals might sound a bit naff on paper but are brilliant in execution.

Photos by Le Coco

For example this beautiful ‘tying of the knot’ idea I had shared, that Jess and Matt then made their own at their Terrara House Estate wedding.  It was magical, memorable and just their style.  They began with a hand-fasting and explained the history of this tradition.  Then to add another layer they tied a knot of coloured ribbons around their hands to create a binding.  This however wasn’t any old binding.  Each of the coloured ribbons was endowed with a meaning which I explained to those present and whose words had also been sewn onto the ribbon itself by the bride.  Key family and friends were invited forward to drape their ribbons across the bride and grooms hands, which were then lovingly bound together by the mother of the bride.

Visually it looked amazing.  Emotionally it was quite moving.  Ultimately it created that extra-special something that all their family and friends will take away as a special memory of the wedding.  Including me.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again – Colour and Movement. Magic!


The wording

I will now invite forward, one at a time, some important people in Jess and Matt’s lives to each tie a ribbon around the bride and groom’s hands.  Each coloured strand represents different qualities, hopes and wishes for Jess and Matt and their future together….

Matt’s dad Richard brings Light Blue – for understanding and patience

Jess’s friend Niki brings Green – for health, prosperity, luck, fertility and beauty

Jess’s friend Bec gives Yellow – for wisdom and harmony

Jess’s friend Clare brings Pink – for romance, honour, partnership and happiness

Matt’s mum Jan ties Gold – for unity, prosperity and longevity

Jess’s mum Sally will tie Red – for courage, strength and passion

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