Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in whole or part with this copyright notice and proper acknowledgement of the author and VRRAC1753. The content of this paper are the opinions of the author and are not necessarily those of the Chapter or any other Royal Arch Masons.
BY: EX. JOHN R. GOODWIN, PHP OF MT. HOREB RAC No. 11
JANUARY 25, 1997
Thank you for the invitation and opportunity to speak to you today. I welcome this opportunity as it allows me to speak on two of the institutions that are most dear to my heart, Freemasonry and the Order of the Arrow. Many of you, were no doubt, Boy Scouts as a youth. Many of you were also members of the Order of the Arrow. For you who were not, permit me to briefly describe the order and give a history of its organization. The purpose of the Order is: To recognize those campers, Scouts and Scouters, who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives and by such recognition cause other campers to conduct themselves in such manner as to warrant recognition. To develop and maintain camping traditions and spirit. To promote Scout camping, which reaches its greatest effectiveness as a part of the unit's camping program, both year-round and in the summer camp, as directed by the camping committee of the council. To crystallize the Scout's habit of helpfulness into a lifelong purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others. 1
The Order of the Arrow was founded during the summer of 1915 at treasure Island, the Philadelphia Council Scout Camp, by E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson. Treasure Island was part of the original land grant given to William Penn by King Charles II of England. The camp was located on a 50 acre wooded island located in the Delaware River between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 30 miles upriver from Trenton and 3 miles from Point Pleasant. Historical records show that it was an early camping ground of the Lenni Lanape or Delaware Indians. Goodman and Edson wanted some definite form of recognition for those Scouts in their camp who would best exemplified the spirit of the scout Oath and Law in their lives. Since the Delaware Valley was rich in Indian tradition, and the island had been used in early times as an Indian camping ground, it seemed only natural to base this society, this brotherhood of honor campers, on the legend and traditions of the Delaware Indians.2
Last February I was selected to join the Order and went through my ordeal in March. My Son, who is now thirteen years old, had joined the Order the year before. I was excited at the prospect of becoming an Arrow man because it would mean I could share more scouting activities with him. As I went through the ordeal, I noticed ritual movements and phrases that were very similar to Masonry. I have researched the j similarity, but have not found any documentation to link Masonry and the Order.
I would like to relate the experience of my ordeal and let you decide for yourself if there is a link. The ordeal began on a Friday night. A group of us were gathered. We were directed to enter into a period of silence, which would last for approximately twenty four hours. We then took an extended hike through the woods. We were not permitted to have flashlights and, therefore, walked in darkness. We spent the night in the woods and the next day we performed chores for the camp. At this point I did not perceive any relationships. Saturday evening, however, things began to change.
Our group was again led into the woods. It was night, we were still not allowed to have flashlights, and it was very dark. We walked for what seemed a long time. We arrived at a path at the foot of a hill. I later found out that this hill is affectionately called "cardiac hill." It was steep. We were asked to hold onto a rope as we walked up the hill. It was still very dark. At the top of the hill I had one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. We were led, still holding onto the rope, through long parallel lines of Arrow men who were -holding candles to light our way. As I looked to my left I saw the face of my son illuminated by his candle. You will recall I indicated he had joined the Order a year earner. My emotions stirred wildly. It' suddenly occurred to me that I had had- many situations to be "there" for him. This was his first opportunity to be "there" for me. He, along with about one hundred fifty Arrow men had climbed cardiac hill and waited for us to come out of the darkness to welcome us to the Order. I should have indicated earlier that the temperature was only twenty-eight degrees.
While we were still holding onto the rope, we were conducted to a circle by a boy who was dressed as an Indian. In the center of the circle was a huge fire. It was built in the shape of a triangle. Positioned around the fire were three other boys dressed as Indian Chiefs. As we began to enter the circle, we were halted by one of the Chiefs. We heard this dialogue. "Who are these strangers who seek admission to our circle?" An answer was given by our conductor. Another question was asked. -"How do they expect to obtain this privilege?" An answer was given. Another question was asked. "Have they been given 'the admonition?" The answer was, -"They have not, but fi have received it, and will give it to you for them." The question was asked, "What is the admonition?" Our conductor answered and was then told, '-You have been given the admonition correctly, you may pass." We were conducted to the next Chief who asked the same questions with the same answers being returned as before. Then we were conducted to the third Chief where the same sequence was initiated. As we made our circuits around the fire, I noticed 'Chat we walked in a clockwise direction.
When we finished our circuits, one of the chiefs approached us. He told our conductor, finish their preparation by placing them in the proper position to receive further knowledge." We were then told, "you will now take three steps forward and pause before the council fire." We were given an obligation. At the conclusion of the obligation, he told us we could let go of the rope we had been holding. He then presented his hand to each of us and gave us a grip and a password which we were to share only with other Arrowmen.
As I drove home the next stay I thought over the ceremony and the similarity it had to our Masonic rituals. In Masonry we are blindfolded during our ritual. In the Boy Scouts, youth protection laws prohibit blindfolding. However, walking in the darkness of the night is almost the same as being blindfolded. As we held onto the rope we were led up the hill and around the fire from chief to chief That rope seemed very much like a cabletow. We walked from the darkness of the night into the light provided by the parallel lines of Arrowmen holding candles. How similar this is to the parallel lines of Brothers stretching forth their hands to assist the Worshipful Master in bringing us from darkness to Masonic Light as we kneel at the altar. We made a clockwise circuit around a fire stopping before three chiefs for an examination. The three chiefs could very easily be the three stationed officers of a lodge. The questions of the examination anti the answers returned are remarkably similar.
The use of the triangle for the shape of the fire is interesting. We use it in Masonry to represent the Diety. The fire being in the center of the circle seemed very similar to the position of the altar in the lodge. The three steps we took forward toward this fire are much like the steps by which we are taught to advance in Masonry toward the altar. We were placed in the proper position to receive further knowledge previous to the assumption of an obligation. We assumed an obligation as we do in Masonic ritual The big Chief came before us and gave us the grip and password of an Arrowman and told us to release the rope. What a reminder this is of the Worshipful Master obligating candidates, ordering their release from the cable-tow, and presenting them with the grip and word of their particular degree.
There are other similarities. The Order has three levels of membership. Each of these has its own ritual. I have not gone through the other two levels, but I am told that each has its own grip and password. The grips coincidentally use the same number of interlocking fingers relative to the level of membership as we Masonically use our knuckles for the three degrees. I have also been told that each subsequent ceremony explains more of the "real" meaning of the Order. This sounds like our receiving more light in Masonry as we progress through our degrees.
Were the ceremonies of the Order of the Arrow derived from Masonic ritual? I do not know. I have found no documentation to support that it was. I have questioned many Arrowmen, who are also Masons, and have been told that both E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson were thirty-third degree Scottish Rite Masons. I have been asked by some of those same Arrowmen if there was any doubt in my mind as to the origin of the ceremonies of the Order. The lack of physical documentation forces a sense of doubt. But the similarities are staggering. Staggering enough to make me wonder. Perhaps, they make you wonder too.
1. Boy, Scouts of America. Order of the Arrow Hanbook. (Irving, Texas: 1993) 8.
2. Ibid., 16-17