Danna D. Schmidt

Master Life-Cycle Celebrant®

Ordained Wedding Officiant

Funerals/Memorials Specialist

Category Archives: The Art & Science of Ceremony

Sherpa, Shaman…Shazammer!

When people ask me what I do in my work as a ceremonialist, I begin by telling them I’m equal parts sherpa, shaman, and shazammer.

Now I’ll admit, describing myself as a Sherpa-Shaman-Shazammer sounds way more migratory, mystical and magical than the job really entails, but stay with me as I unpack the tri-fold nature of what it means to be a Master Life-Cycle Celebrant® who custom crafts ceremonies from birth to earth.

I’m Your Sherpa.

Dubbing myself a Sherpa is the best way I know to help people envision how this work is, first and foremost, about guiding them along an often arduous path which is usually a bit of a slog before you’re rewarded with the scenic vistas. All life is journey, and ceremony is about pausing to honor the transition points in this grand migration of the soul called life.

As your Sherpa, I help relieve you of the heavy packs you’ve been carrying, leaving you to continue carrying your ten essentials and your most sacred of cargo. I (and ideally a community of your closest others) bear witness to you laying your burdens down. And all along the way, I provide you interpretative guide services such as pointing out the various mile markers, viewpoints, or historical monuments ~ and high-fiving you at each key leg of the journey. 

Being a ceremonial sherpa is one of the most rewarding and process-driven parts of being a celebrant because as your sherpa, I’m helping you honor your journey with presence and purpose.

I’m Your Shaman.

The Shaman part can seem intimidating and mystical (aka woo-woo) to some because of how we’ve come to perceive the Shaman’s role as a shapeshifter in indigenous cultural stories. And while I admit to not being formally trained in shamanic studies, and thus, not able to wear the official hat, I am well steeped in earth-based rituals, ceremonial training, and comparative religion studies. And so I will often refer to myself as a kind of urban shaman(ish-ta) and soulsmith, given that soul work is my chosen life trade and decades long apprenticeship.

I use Shaman in this sense of my role then, to point to the Shaman’s gift to the tribe as the ritual diviner and keeper of the village medicine. In similar fashion, that’s what I do with the individuals, couples and communities I work with – devise and divine custom rituals, and help them to reclaim their original medicine through story, empowering rites, and ceremonial village-making. The Shaman part of my role encompasses all of the most creative ju-ju that goes into crafting the ceremony. It’s the biggest and most important aspect of my practice.

I’m Your Shazammer.

The Shazammer piece of my celebrant identity is what many people mistakenly believe is the bulk of the work – the MC part (Maestro of Ceremonies). And while it’s true that showing up is half the battle, it does not equate to half the work or time – more like 10% of my work. But it’s where 90% of the magic happens. As the Shazammer, I get to teleport you to that liminal landscape and timeless zone called Ceremony, where Once Upon a Time, We Are Gathered Here Today, and Ever After co-habitate in harmony. I’m gifted the opportunity to open my ceremony binder and let the enchanting powers of myth, symbol, and ritual escape like so many gold stars and bioluminescent bubbles floating up to the sky, so they can then live lively for an hour or so.

And even as I’m not the magic maker, per se – the ceremony itself is the sacred container and vessel – I do have an integral role in shaping the magic that comes to life.

As humans, we are a guest house of emotions, to borrow from Rumi’s famous poem about welcoming all the joys and sorrows that tend to take up temporary residence in the respective houses of our souls. My job is to ensure the ceremony is radically hospitable to the range of emotions that such defining life moments elicit. Nostalgia, trepidation, whimsy, anticipation, excitement, overwhelm, grief, and joy all love to show up at ceremonies. I’m transparent with my clients about making room for these ceremony-crashers because to deny them entrance is to invite the unexpected.

In the words of Robert Heller, “fear,” is little more than, “excitement without breath.” Permitting these myriad emotional forms a reserved seat brings a kind of eclectic vitality and authenticity to the occasion. With that said, I gently stir the elixir of all these emotions together with all the ceremonial ingredients and elements in the ritual bowl in just the right way to bring laughter, tears, or ideally, the conjoining of both hearty laughter and poignant tears in precisely the same moment.

And then I wait for the notoriously-late trickster spirit to show up, or as self-awareness trainer Randy Revell would call it, the magic chuckle. It’s an unscripted, wondrous moment and invariably, it becomes a kind of memorable, take-away aspect of the day that  inspires surprise, awe, mirth, or wonder. 

It might be the rainbow that appears in the sky at the end of a graveside service just as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” begins playing, or the champagne that mysteriously pops on its own at just the right celebratory moment, or when someone’s phone with the “Wild Thing” ring tone starts to blare loudly at the exact minute a certain wholehearted someone is being described. I now anticipate and welcome these ceremonious glimmers of surprise and delight as part of the magic of ceremony in my role as Shazammer.

It’s true that I may not wear a cape, carry a wand, or have the ability to pull rabbits out of hats, but what I’ve come to appreciate and own is that when people gather ceremoniously, shazam! – magic really does happen.

As a Sherpa, Shaman, Shazammer, I’m glad that my occupational hazards are of the co-conspirator variety. I lend the helper’s hand in honoring the magic, the mystery, and the migration that leads people to the altar of whatever key life moment is being celebrated. I’m incredibly grateful that I get to do what I do. The intangible rewards of touching and transforming lives are my bonus pay.

Say it RITE…the Ceremonious Way!