The Order of the Arrow (OA) is an honor society within the Boy Scouts of America. The Order is styled off of Native American traditions and customs and maintains a somewhat secretive nature in that respect. However, although the OA tries to maintain some secrets and rituals that set it and its membership apart from other scouts, it is not a secret organization.
The Order of the Arrow is broken down into various lodges or chapters across the country that operate much like the different scouting councils. These lodges organize programs and handle the induction of new members.
The Purpose and Mission of the Order of the Arrow is:
- To recognize those who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives and through that recognition cause others to conduct themselves in a way that warrants similar recognition.
- To promote camping, responsible outdoor adventure, and environmental stewardship as essential components of every Scout’s experience, in the unit, year-round, and in summer camp.
- To develop leaders with the willingness, character, spirit and ability to advance the activities of their units, the Brotherhood, Scouting, and ultimately the nation.
- To crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others.
The Order of the Arrow was founded in 1915 at Treasure Island, a scout camp located on an island in the Delaware River inside what was the Philadelphia Council. It was created as a way to further teach and live the ideals of the Scout Oath and Law as well as create a greater sense of Fraternity among the boys at the camp. The early order was styled after the local Lenni Lenape Indians of the Delaware Valley in custom, organization, and language.
In 1921, the organization took the official name of "The Order of the Arrow" and founded the first official lodge. Despite this official beginning, growth was still slow. Many were skeptical of a secret organization within scouting (one of the reasons the OA later became open to reveal that there was indeed nothing to worry about) and fought against the OA's spread. Despite this, the honor society grew and was fully integrated into the BSA in 1948.
Typically on Saturday Dinners at Horseshoe, the camp will dismiss by rank of OA members: Vigil, Brotherhood, Ordeal, Tapped Out, and the rest.
Membership and Ranks Edit
All members of the Order of the Arrow are voted into the organization by their fellow scouts who feel that the candidates best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives. After being nominated by their troop, scouts are "tapped out" and then must undergo an "Ordeal" before being inducted.
"Ordeal" is the basic membership level. These scouts have undergone the physical test of induction. It is important to remember though that there are no "ranks" in the Order. All members have the same rights and privileges. The different levels of membership merely signify commitment and reaffirmation of the values of scouting."Brotherhood" is the next level. After being a member of the OA for at least 10 months and performing service for the order, a member may take the Brotherhood test. Unlike the physical test of Ordeal, this is a test of knowledge to show the member's understanding of the Order's history, traditions, and obligations.
"Vigil" is the highest level of membership and is reserved for those members who far surpass their fellows in their commitment to scouting. One must be a member of the OA for at least two years before being elevated to this honored position but it usually takes much longer than that and can even be a lifetime achievement to reach Vigil. An OA lodge cannot have more than 2% of their membership reach the rank of Vigil. Upon attaining Vigil, the scout is given a new Native American name, typically one that accurately characterizes the member's personality or actions. For example, Dick Bensing's vigil name is Neka Auwen Wikheu Alike Takanik, which in the native american language of Lenni Lenape translates to "He who builds for others".
Patches and Sashes Edit
Membership in the Order of the Arrow is designated on the scout uniform in two ways. First and most prominent is the OA sash worn by members. The sash crosses the body and is worn with the arrow pointing over the right shoulder. Ordeal members wear just a plain white sash with a red arrow, Brotherhood members have two red bars in front and behind the arrow, and Vigil members have an additional red triangle in the center of the arrow. The sash is not part of the regular uniform and is typically only worn at OA functions such as Tap Outs and OA Weekends. Paoli 1 also wears sashes at the Birthday and Memorial Day Parade.
The less prominent but more permanent part of the uniform is the lodge patch. It is worn on the flap of the right breast pocket and is shaped in a broad downward arrow just like the pocket flap. The patch has a picture on it that varies by lodge and distinguishes members from those various lodges. The perimeter of the patch also symbolizes the membership level of the member. A white border symbolizes Ordeal, red is Brotherhood, and purple is Vigil.
The OA Tap Out (AKA OA Call Out) is the closest most non-members will get to the Order of the Arrow. It is a ceremony in which potential OA candidates are notified of their nomination.