Flaming Hearts And Spirits

A dozen archers line up with flaming arrows held high at a 45-degree angle. The flames dance and illuminate the archers as they gaze at their target. A dramatic instrumental score plays. In unison, the archers lower their bows, draw back, and fire a volley of flaming arrows at a straw Phoenix, which erupts into flames. As the pyre burns down, the entire audience encircles the structure and gazes at the undulating colors of yellow, orange and black.

Flaming arrows light camp's tradition.

This archery ritual uses flaming arrows and a burning pyre to weave a connection among those in attendance; it speaks to their heart and spirit. Those moments are rare now — lost in hurried days and television and computer screens that keep people introverted — even in the presence of others. But the power of this ritual is something that cannot be ignored or extinguished. It is the glory of the Phoenix that brings out the desire of all of its participants to wish, wonder, and hope.


The Phoenix is a mythical creature, so there’s no real-life depiction of it. One may recall that Fawkes is Dumbledore’s Phoenix in the Harry Potter series.

For this purpose, it is essentially a bird-like structure built of straw and tree branches. Baling twine is used to connect the branches to make the frame, and bales of straw make up the core body. Flakes of straw are used to make the wings, stuff the tail, and create the head.

There’s plenty of artistic license here, so don’t be afraid to let the creation take on varied incarnations. Note that the Phoenix is quite heavy, so build it on location — one in which flames and embers are not going to create a hazard or damage.


Each person in a cabin takes two sticks and places them in the fire spirit (usually done before dinner). The sticks are imbued with a wish (see below). Poke them in the straw fairly deeply.

Stick 1: The wish can’t be personal or selfish — it must be for the greater good, obtainable and that each camper can personally influence.

Stick 2: This wish is for something each camper wants to release personally. Maybe there’s something that has changed a person at camp or something he or she desires to change. When it burns in the fire spirit, it will be released.

The Phoenix is chosen as a symbol for the fire spirit because in its fiery transformation, there is a release and a rebirth. With that rebirth also comes the energy and power to create something positive from within, as well as in the outside world. The Phoenix is reborn only when everyone who watches it burn is sleeping.

Speaking Of Archers

Archery isn’t easy, and that’s part of what makes it cool. When attempting to look into the dark distance while a bright light shines in your eyes (the flames of the arrow), it is difficult to see much, especially clearly.

That can be a problem when firing a flaming arrow! So, it helps to have archers who are decent shots. Generally, archers who can consistently get over 50 points on a 48-inch target at 30 meters are capable. It is also helpful to have archers practice “instinct” shooting — place targets of varied sizes all over the range at random distances, and have the archers hit a small area (about the size of a basketball) consistently with one arrow per target. After every attempt at a group of targets, move all the targets around to make aiming more difficult.

Even with set criteria, some people likely are going to miss. Although raising the bar is an option, such skill levels often will not be found at camp. An alternative with benefits is to use multiple archers — six is a good number, 12 is even better, and 25 is an impressive sight since a volley of flaming arrows simply isn’t something witnessed all that often in real life.

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