Posted by John Porter
I am an archer. I am a funeral celebrant. The last funeral I facilitated was of Thelma, my archery coach. She used to coach the British archery team many years ago. The chairman of Tonbridge Archers led the tribute and, much to everyone’s surprise (he was renowned for “going on at length” at meetings) stuck to his five minutes – pretty important to avoid crematorium fines! When he had finished I said: “… even when Thelma was sick she used to come and watch us practice and she could spot a poor release of an arrow at a long distance – ‘what kind of release do you call that – pathetic’.” she would often say about my performance. Some reacted negatively to her criticisms but I accepted them. She was right. My release was very poor.
Watching a scene from Game of Thrones provoked this blog contribution. Someone has died. He is laid in a boat garnished with sword, shield and kindred flag. Kindling straw and pots of some kind of accelerant are added to ensure it’s a good show.
A young archer steps forward, nocks a large black arrow bound with twine at the top of the shaft and dips it in the fire before drawing. It is a very dramatic and emotional moment. The arrow flies towards the dead person’s boat, now steadily drifting away along the water.
He misses. He shoots another lighted arrow with a deeper draw as the boat is further away. He misses again. My heart goes out to him as I too have missed the target many times. I know that look. The squint is to hide embarassment and ponder how to get it right next time – mind you he does have a king standing behind him. I had Thelma sat on a chair 20 yards away. It’s still scrutiny!
An older archer steps forward, snatches the bow from the young archer, lights the arrow and draws deeply and aims high towards the distant boat. He looks to the flag to see what the wind is doing before releasing the flaming messenger. The younger archer watches, still smarting from his two failed attempts to seal the ceremony.
The archer does not bother to see if it reached its target. He knew his arrow had found its mark.
I love the drama of this scene. I feel for the younger archer. I remember Thelma. I did my best to make Thelma’s event meaningful and positively memorable but, oh, how I would have loved to have stood on the dock and released a perfect arrow towards her dead body on a dressed raft of some kind. Fire and water. Life and death. Health and safety. The modern crematorium offers little opportunity for high drama. Sanitised and hidden. Pity. Flaming arrows aside, I know we can create better ceremonies. Let’s share ideas here.