Depending on how long you’ve been in Scouting (or how interested you are in Scouting culture!), you may have heard about a mysterious organization called the Order of the Arrow (OA). What exactly is the OA? When did they start? How do I join? In this unbiased article, I’ve compiled all of the public info on the OA so that you can decide whether becoming an Order of the Arrow member is right for you!
What is the Order of The Arrow? The Order of the Arrow (OA) essentially functions as Scouting’s National Honor Society. OA members consist of select scouts that have excelled at living the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives. The trials to join the Order of the Arrow are not easy, and only the most dedicated scouts are able to enter the brotherhood.
PS. This article is based on the experiences and research of Eagle Scouts, Kevin A and Cole 🙂
Although I’m not personally an Order of the Arrow member, I did have many friends in Scouting who were. After hearing about the OA from them as well as learning about it online, I can tell you with 99.8% confidence that joining the OA is not something to be afraid of (It’s not a cult)!
While the Order of the Arrow may be secretive, it is by no means a “secret society” as those are forbidden under BSA youth protection guidelines.
While the specific practices of the OA are not widely spread in order to preserve the magic for future candidates, all OA business meetings are open to non-members, and concerned parents have previously been able to view the ceremonies, upon request.
In this article, we’re gonna be diving into several different aspects of Scouts BSA’s National Honor Society, the Order of the Arrow. First, we’ll be covering key facts on the purpose and history organization. Then, I’ll be telling you about how to get into the program, as well as the types of events and ceremonies they hold for their members. Finally, we’ll be reviewing the OA’s organizational structure!
What Does the Order of the Arrow do?
You might have seen a few Order of the Arrow members before at your Summer camps or Jamborees. In fact, you probably have some OA members in your own troop. These individuals wear a white sash adorned by a solid red arrow. However, this is a rare occurrence as OA members are only allowed to wear this sash when officially representing the organization.
So, what’s the point of the OA?
Well, according to their website, the Order of the Arrow serves as a “brotherhood” for scouts who exemplify the Scout Oath and Law. In the OA, all members refer to each other as “brothers” (even girls) and strive to make Scouting better through their ideals of brotherhood (comradery), cheerfulness, and service.
In a lot of cases, Order of the Arrow members can also be purposefully secretive of their affiliation, as new OA members are best initiated without any prior knowledge of the program. In fact, it might be hard to find scouts openly acknowledging that they are members of the Order of the Arrow, unless you directly ask them.
Before the end of the 20th century, the Order of the Arrow was an even more secretive group than it is today! While these days you can find out a lot of info by simply going to the OA website, the society still tries to keep its events and ceremonies as private as it can make them. Impressively, there are even password-protected portions of the OA website!
Before we get into what the Order of the Arrow looks like today, let’s briefly explore a bit of the organization’s history. In the next section, you’ll learn the surprising reasons why Edward Urnder Goodman, the OA’s founder, decided to form such a secretive and elite group!
The History of the Order of the Arrow
In this section, we’ll just be going over a brief history of the OA. But, if you’d like to read an in-depth history of the organization, I’d recommend checking out U.S Scouts’ fantastic article on the OA’s history!
The OA was founded in 1915 (only seven years after Lord Robert-Baden Powell founded Scouting in Great Britain) by Edward Urnder Goodman at the Treasure Island Scout Reservation along the Delaware River in New Jersey.
Goodman founded the OA because he wanted to reinforce to scouts that learning and practicing Scouting skills wasn’t enough to be called a true scout; rather, a true scout needed to learn all such Scouting skills while also actively and consistently living by the Scout Oath and Law.
Goodman thought that the best way to reinforce these values was to create a “brotherhood” (like a camp fraternity) amongst scouts who excelled at living by the Scout Oath and Law. Controversially, due to claims of cultural appropriation, Goodman based the OA’s culture, costumes, and rituals on the practices of Lenape people, a Native American tribe indigenous to the northeast United States.
Why Did the Order of the Arrow Begin to Catch on?
The Order of the Arrow has always been very selective of its members, which has helped the organization to uphold their honorable values well! In order for motivated scouts to be eligible to join the Order of the Arrow Brotherhood, they had to be elected by their fellow troop members.
After the Order of the Arrow candidates were elected, they were put through a standardized initiation ritual called the “Ordeal” (more on this in the next section). If the candidates completed their Ordeal, they’d be inducted into the OA! Within the organization, they’d be challenged to excel at living by the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives.
As the OA gained popularity, other Scouting councils began to create their own lodges (lodges are the meeting places for all of the OA chapters) and by 1921, the first National Order of the Arrow gathering (called the Grand Lodge meeting) happened in Philadelphia. There, Edward Goodman was elected as Grand Chieftain!
From there on out, the OA would only gain more and more traction in the national Scouting community. Although there were many other Scouting honor societies at the time, the popularity of how the OA was run in addition to the ideals it taught led to more and more Scouting camps switching from their previous honor societies to the OA.
Ever since its beginning, the OA has dedicated itself to enriching the lives of its members and spreading the positive values of Scouting. That’s probably why the Order of the Arrow eventually became the official national brotherhood of Scouts BSA in 1948! Whether it’s community service, conservation projects, or high adventure activities, the OA consistently provides great ways for older scouts to stay engaged. 🙂
Requirements to Become A Member of the Order of the Arrow
From my own experience and research, the vast majority of OA members are older scouts who are in eighth grade or above. That’s because, to be eligible for troop election into the OA, you’ll need to meet a few requirements.
According to the Order of the Arrow’s official membership requirements, OA candidates must:
- Be a registered member of Scouts BSA
- Have experienced 15 nights of camping with their Troop, crew, or ship within the last two years. The Scout must have had at least one long-term camping outing. Only 5 nights of the long-term camping outing can count towards this requirement. The other 10 nights must be a mixture of short-term camping outings (such as weekend camping outings)
- At the time of their election, youth must be under the age of 21, hold the Scouts BSA First Class rank, the Venturing Discovery rank, or the Sea Scout Ordinary rank or higher, and following approval by the Scoutmaster, Crew Advisor or Sea Scout Skipper, be elected by the youth members of their unit.
A strong emphasis is put upon the third requirement, where individuals must be elected by their fellow scouts in order to be qualified to begin their OA candidacy. Typically, Order of the Arrow elections are only held once a year, usually taking place at the end of Scouting summer camps (as that’s how the OA’s first inductees were brought in).
The Order of the Arrow’s Ceremonies
If you’re an Order of the Arrow candidate, you may want to stop reading here.
Although Scouting teaches us to be prepared, sometimes it’s more fun to be surprised and overcome challenges on the fly! In the following sections, I’ll be going over a very vague roadmap on your path into the OA.
Although I won’t be revealing any ground-breaking secrets, I’d recommend making the careful decision, right now, on whether or not you’d like to continue reading.
The Order of the Arrow Ordeal
After a scout is elected by their fellow scout members, they must go through “The Ordeal.” This takes place a few weeks, or even months, after a scout wins their troop election. The “Ordeal” is a unique camping experience that each OA candidate must complete in order to continue along their membership path.
Be aware that one’s Ordeal is no ordinary camping outing. In fact, I’ve heard from an OA member that their Ordeal was one of the most memorable campouts of their lives! While I won’t go into too much detail, according to the Order of the Arrow’s official Ordeal Letter, a scout must do the following during their Ordeal experience:
- Candidates must take a Vow of Silence: Candidates must take a 24-hour vow of silence. This means they are not allowed to talk to any other scout or adult present
- This is to teach candidates that decisions are made better after thoughtful silence rather than days of talking.
- Candidates must Sleep Alone: Candidates must sleep alone under the stars (meaning no tent). They are actually only 20 feet away from each other, but they cannot tell because it is so dark.
- This challenges candidates to be resilient and self-reliant
- Candidates will be fed Scant Food: Candidates will be fed smaller than usual amounts of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- This teaches candidates that even during times of self-sacrifice (which in this case is fasting), a cheerful heart is all one needs.
- Candidates will be put through Arduous Labor: They will spend their days doing service for the camp while maintaining a cheerful heart.
- This challenges candidates to be faithful to the higher ideals of the OA.
Even after the candidate completes their Ordeal, they’ll still need to do more in order to be officially recognized as a brother within the Order of the Arrow. Candidates must also regularly attend brotherhood meetings hosted by the OA, and participate in OA chapter meetings that happen every month.
Only after a minimum of 6 months of regular attendance to OA-related meetings and activities will a candidate be eligible to participate in the induction ceremony. This is the ceremony where an OA candidate will become a permanent part of the brotherhood!
The Order of the Arrow Brotherhood Ceremony
After the candidate has attended OA related meetings and events for 6 months and has completed certain requirements, they can participate in the Brotherhood Ceremony! Upon completion, they will be recognized as a fully-fledged member of the Order of the Arrow.
It’s said that the Brotherhood Ceremony focuses on reinforcing OA ideals and values by challenging the mind instead of the body (which was done through the Ordeal).
The ceremony is only open to the candidates themselves, the OA members who are running the ceremony, and parents/guardians/religious leaders of the candidates in attendance. This is done in an effort to make the experience more meaningful and impactful to the new initiates.
The Order of the Arrow Vigil of Honor
After two years of membership in the OA, brothers become eligible to be nominated for the Vigil of Honor induction ceremony. This is the highest distinction an OA member can receive and is by no means an easy feat to achieve!
The Order of the Arrow limits the number of members who can join the Vigil of Honor to 1 in every 50. To attend the ceremony, an OA member must be nominated by their peers, have shown exemplary service since becoming a part of the OA, and have gone well beyond their duties as an OA member.
How the Order of the Arrow is Organized and Structured
Finally, to have a good understanding of the Order of the Arrow is and what it stands for, it’s important to know how the organization is structured. As the OA is basically Scouting’s National Honor Society, it’s structured in a similar way to how Scouts BSA is structured, but with several important differences.
In the table below, I’ll be summarizing the key points around each of the Order of the Arrow’s organizational levels. However, for a more in-depth explanation, I’d recommend checking the OA’s official website.
|Organizational Level (Lowest to Highest)||Leadership||Purpose|
|Chapters||Chapter Officers and Advisors||–Helps members to connect on a more local and personal level.|
–Allows members to have an OA presence close to their homes and troops.
|Lodges||Lodge Chief, volunteer adult Lodge Advisor, and Staff Advisor||–Helps connect BSA councils to their local chapters. Serves both the council and chapter, when needed. |
–Sometimes has board positions such as Vice Lodge Chief, Secretary, Treasurer etc.
|Section||Section Chief, Vice Section Chief, and Secretary||–Holds seminars and programs that promote the National Committee. |
–Offers resources to the lodges within their section.
|Regions (Central, Northeast, Southern, and Western)||Region Chief, volunteer Region Chairman, Region Staff Advisor||–Acts as the connection between the national and local level of the OA.|
–Executes the national program on a sectional level.
Holds National Leadership Seminars.
–Facilitates communication between the Sectional Level and National Level.
|National||Led by a National OA Committee, made up of the National Chief, National Vice Chief, The Chairman, other volunteer members, two staff members, the OA Director, and the OA specialist||–Sets program-wide policies.|
–Administers the nationwide programs.
–Broadly manages regions and sections as needed.
I hope you’ve had fun learning about the Order of the Arrow! It’s a truly deep and honorable organization, and although I’ve never personally been a part of the OA, I’d highly recommend pursuing membership in it if this article has sparked your interest. 🙂
If you enjoyed learning about the OA, you’re probably an older scout, or you might just love finding out more about Scouting culture! In either case, I’d highly recommend reading any of the following articles if they spark your interest:
- 99 Extraordinary And Creative Eagle Scout Project Ideas
- The Fleur-de-Lis’ Surprising History In Scouting
- How To Plan The Perfect Eagle Scout Project
- Why Scouts Wear Neckerchief Scarfs (And Their Symbolism)
Great work reading this far, and thanks for improving our world through your involvement in Scouting. If you’re trying to join the OA, I’ve got my fingers crossed for your successful election! Come back to ScoutSmarts soon and, until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey!