Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pennies For The Boatman

My father's funeral takes place this afternoon.
I am not a religious woman. I have no 'faith'. But death has a way of tweaking atavistic superstitions in all of us. I wanted to leave something with my father's remains before they were cremated.
The notion of the dead passing from one realm to another is expressed in different ways in different cultures but the need to furnish them with goods for the journey – money, weapons, food, treasured possessions – is common to most ancient traditions. In some, a boatman is said to ferry souls across dark water to the after-life: the most famous is Charon, of Greek mythology, who navigates the rivers Styx and Acheron to Hades.
The tradition of placing coins on the eyes of the dead stems from an obligation to 'pay the boatman'.
For various reasons, I didn't want to place coins on my father's eyes but I didn't want to take the chance of his soul being stranded if the myths turned out to be true. So I spent yesterday morning crafting a small, black felt pouch, hand-stitched with waxed upholstery thread to a pale leather thong, to contain a few coins. I will place the pouch on his chest, beneath his hands, and the thong around his neck, before his coffin is closed.
The tradition calls for the coins to be pennies and I have stuck with this, providing him two pre-decimal ones minted in the years of his conception and birth. However, I have also allowed for centuries of inflation and added around five dollars in additional funds. My father was a generous man and would probably want to tip the boatman at the end of the passage – or offer to pay for a fellow-traveller who hadn't coins for the toll.

16 comments:

Zian said...

A noble gesture Hazel - and a meaningful one also. Condolences on your father's passing; may his passage be on calm waters.

Lorna said...

Here in the village of Eynsham in England we have to cross a centuries old Toll Bridge over the river Thames. It is common practise to pay the toll for friends following behind.

shayla said...

Awesome. :)

Elizabeth said...

That is a loving gesture in saying your goodbyes to your dad.

Laura Lynch said...

hazel, very moving and thoughtful; a true and gentle offering ... a strong yet simple symbolic gesture attaching part of you to him ... your gift to your father ensuring safe passage ... wonderful!

Mike Wood said...

That is a beautiful gesture. Very touching. Here is to calm waters on his crossing now you have tipped the boatman. :)

Karen Martin Sampson said...

What a loving gesture! I think your Dad is pleased by this thoughtfulness.

Femikneesm said...

Thinking of you Hazel.

Dave C. said...

I'm sure your dad is smiling about this. And if he finds that he doesn't need the toll money, he'll have enough to buy a couple of rounds at the pub when he meets up with some of his buddies that have preceded him.

Anonymous said...

Lovely.

Anonymous said...

bon voyage tom!
smooth sailing.
s,m&j

Angela said...

You're in my thoughts today.

I lost my father eight years ago. I still miss him fiercely.

May your father's journey be sweet and may you find the solace you need.

Lea said...

Hej,
I hope your father has travelled well, quite good companies on the other side, some old friends, lets hope he does not fall in love too often and goes slow on the champagne.
all the best to you, and a little shusss finger on your pleased smile, I sure he will got a bike on a easy ride.
lea,xxx

Kristine said...

What a meaning and beautiful gesture.

Annie Paul said...

Very thoughtful, thanks for sharing...

Colleen Brown said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your Father. I love your gesture. I bet he's smiling.