Recently in the central part of the West Kingdom, there have been some ceremonies for new peers that weren't ... er ... Western. One of my friends in the Laurel Council decided to do some research into the term "Ceremony" and got involved in hunting down related terminology.
Some of the following is a paraphrase (and in some cases the wording is identical) of a discussion I've had in Email with said friend. She was wondering why she was upset when a new Laurel used a ceremony that was almost completely different than the 'standard West Kingdom ceremony'. She did this in a question and answer form, which I sort of use here (I have condensed it down a lot -- much of the text to follow is exact wording on her part). The concepts she brings up are very important, and I agree with her ...
She started out with a question about why she was so upset about this particular ceremony, and went on to ask if the ceremony can be changed. The answer to this is "yes" - it has been changed over time (it's certainly not the same ceremony as when the first Laurels were given in the SCA). Then she asks if "any change" is acceptable, as long as you know in advance? This reasoning is what gets into the meat of the matter. She ended up using a copy of the American Heritage Dictionary and quoting a definition for "ceremony":
ceremony, n. - A formal act or set of acts performed as prescribed by ritual, custom or etiquette.
So she then quotes the definition from the same dictionary for ritual:
ritual, n. - 1. The prescribed form or order of conducting a religious or solemn ceremony. 2. A body of ceremonies or rites, as those used in a church or fraternal organization. 3. A book of rites or ceremonial forms. 4. rituals. a. A ceremonial act or a series of such acts. b. The performance of such acts. 5. A detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed.
rite, n. 1. The prescribed or customary form for conducting a religious or other solemn ceremony. 2. A ceremonial act or series of acts.
And on the same page of the dictionary:
rite of passage, n. A significant event in an individual's life that indicates a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood, and that may be marked by a ritual or ceremony.
This caused her to look up the definition for 'initiate':
initiate, v. To admit into membership, as with ceremonies or ritual.
initiation, n. 2. A ceremony, ritual, test, or period of instruction with which a new member is admitted to an organization or office or to knowledge.
She states in a conclusion based on the dictionary definitions, that the peerage 'ceremony' is actually a peerage 'rite' or perhaps even a 'rite of passage'. Being initiated into the peerage is, in her words, "a transition from your SCA adolescence to your SCA adulthood: you are taking on responsibilities and duties." I can't help but agree with this sentiment. (These responsibilities and duties are defined by the ritual (and Corpora) and if you swear fealty, in the oath of fealty.)
So, why is there a ceremony for this? To formalize the act of being acknowledged as a peer. Why have a rite? To formalize a change in your status in life.
Why does a ceremony change? Because we're all individuals -- there are a lot of different wedding ceremonies out there. However, why does a rite change, or as my friend states "Why would we want to change a rite?" Only when the rite becomes obsolete, or if the purpose of the group whose initiation rite it is changes.
If a peerage ceremony is a rite of passage, is it time to change it? No -- the purpose of the peerages hasn't changed! If the rite reflects the peerage, how come the peerage "ceremonies" in each Kingdom are different? Isn't the peerage the same everywhere? The answer to these questions is that while the peerage is the same everywhere, the ritual is established with the founding of each Kingdom, and each Kingdom's rituals reflect the Kingdom's cultural heritage. When purpose changes, the rite within the ritual will probably change.
If the above is true, why have the "standard" West Kingdom peerage ceremonies changed from the early days? They have (at least to the best of my knowledge) been changed only when the orders of peerage themselves asked for them to be changed, or were asked (as in the opening paragraph common to all three of them now) if a change was acceptable.
Why can't I have the members of the other Orders sing my praises in my ceremony? Isn't that just adding "verbiage"? No. This is altering the rite itself. Outsiders are not welcome to change the words of the rite. Outsiders are more than welcome to watch, but may not participate (with the possible exception of the initiate's significant other, but that is an optional role in the Western rites). If the other Orders participated in the reviewing of the initiate, then the rite might include them. The rite doesn't, because the Orders do not review each other's initiates -- therefore the other Orders are outsiders at the initiation rite.
Here's the kicker: "Shouldn't the initiate get to change his/her ceremony?" No. The initiate is an outsider until after the initiation.
"Can't the Crown change the ceremony?" Well, in the West, "the King's word is law", and therefore the Crown can do anything They want. However, should the Crown change the ceremony? The Crown is not really a member of the Orders of Peerage (the persons wearing the Crowns may be, but during Their reign -- They are "the Crown"). The Crown is outside and above the peerage Orders. The Crown is responsible for the Orders, but is not responsible to the Orders (the Crown has a duty toward the Orders and obligations spelled out in Their oaths of Fealty, but the Crown is responsible and answers to no one in the West Kingdom).
So, can you change the ceremony? Well (in the West Kingdom), there are some options given both in the "New Peer Packets" (if you're a candidate that has been asked to join an Order of Peerage, and have not received a packet, contact the Clerk of the Order or the Green Crown Herald, or get a copy of the West Kingdom Ceremony Book -- it's in there as well) and the ceremonies. These are not huge changes, but with a bit of work, you can personalize the ceremony a bit (use a processional -- these can be really spiffy -- I personally encourage pageantry wherever I can!).