By: Mike Walton (blackeagle)
Posted On: 2020-11-09
Image by Mike Walton circa 1985
Ken Spiegel wrote:
My lodge went back to having ordeal members make their own arrows. Personally, I like the idea of them bring home the arrow as a remembrance.
As long as our new Ordeal members don't hack off their fingers nor bows to the Vigil Honor members, Ken...
(The following was extracted from "Patches and Pins" (or "The Quest for the Silver Beaver...."), by Mike Walton (c) 1988)
The Order of the Arrow is Scouting's national brotherhood of honor campers and Scouts. It was formed by two senior camp directors many years ago. The Order is an attempt to influence and strengthen good behavior by those Scouts and Scout leaders that emphasize what Boy Scouts is all about: camping and being of service to others.
It is the mystery behind what the OA does, however, that "packs in" hundreds of Scouts each year to local Order of the Arrow Lodges, a part of the Boy Scouting operation in each local Council. If you passed by here and expected to read about what "really happens" there, forget it. While the ceremonies are not "secret," they are "guarded" so that the mystery continues for the young man and his adult Scouter leader or coach that wishes to become an Arrowman.
One does not "earn" the Order of the Arrow. It is, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, an honor. Other Scouts or Scouters, those outside the Order, "vote you in." Once you are elected (the election results are seldom announced before a spring District or Council camporee), you are invited (and can decline, which I did the first time around because I felt that those that elected me "voted for me because I was the oldest boy there in the troop and because they all liked me...I was only in the troop for two months before the election, so they really didn't "know me") to attend and participate in something called an "OrdealPersonally
The Ordeal is usually conducted at the Council's summer camp facility...in my case, at Camp Covered Bridge, which was just outside the Jefferson County line in northcentral Kentucky (the camp no longer exists). It is a period of 24 hours, whereby I was to work hard, eat little remembrance, and not talk. The working hard, I can deal with. It was the other two, and in my particular case, the not talking part would be hard for me to cope with.
I have NEVER been quiet for longer than 6 hours at a time. I even talk in my sleep, so others have told me!
After we checked in, we received a small booklet which explained the Order of the Arrow to us in rather simple terms and a small tree limb. "Make an arrow with this," the boy wearing the white sash with the red arrow in the center, surrounded by a large red bar at the top and bottom of the arrow, explained to the group. "This is to make the time pass until everyone is here, and we can proceed with the Ordeal."
We pulled out our pocketknives....some of us had to share knives and somehow explain in a crude sign language, "May I borrow your pocket knife?", "You've cut your finger," "You've cut your pant leg (or leg)," or my favorite, "That arrow looks good, Somehow that Boy Scout Handbook that we were all instructed to bring with us did not prepare us for the "gestural body talk" that we had to perform as part of the "Ordeal."
There were also hand signs for "using the kybo" (the bathroom), for "getting something to drink," and for "no way, you can't make an arrow from a green twig!"
After "lunch" (a single peanut butter sandwich, a pint of milk and two Girl Scout cookies....Girl Scout cookies!! What were THEY doing at a Boy Scout camp??), we were invited to complete our arrow and to place the date and sign them. "These will go on the ceiling alongside all of your brothers that have passed this way," it was explained, "inside Cardinal Point." Cardinal Point was the name of the Order of the Arrow Lodge building, and the first building you saw as you made the top of the hill and entered the camp property.
We were all proud of the fact that our arrow would "live on" after we've finished cutting it and ourselves trying to "make an arrow." We patterned our arrows after the ones that we saw other boys and adults wear as an outward emblem of this brotherhood we were about to enter. Some of the candidates re-made their arrow because "I just thought it was something to waste our time with ---like they didn't know what to do with us, so "let's have them to make an Arrow." I didn't realize that it, too, was a part of the program."
I proudly placed my name and date -- May 22nd, 1976 -- onto my Arrow and handed it to another boy, this time wearing a sash with that same red arrow, but this time with what looked like a triangle in the center of it and with those same red bars on top and bottom of the arrow. "Guess he must be the person in charge....the Chief", I thought as I handed the arrow to him. I bowed too...I didn't know how to show respect to an Indian....and I'd stopped smoking in the eighth grade, so I couldn't offer a pipe to smoke...so I bowed.
"You don't have to bow....I'm just a Scout-like you, "he corrected me. Then, he turned to the Scout, holding the ladder and snidely spoke, "Where are we getting these candidates from, anyway??" I thought I was complimenting the guy, and I left the room and went back out to the porch with the rest of the candidates.
I wanted to let him know that I was offering him a compliment in the best way I knew how, and yes, I've watched a LOT of "cowboy and Indian flicks." In several of those movies, the leading man always would ride up to the Chief of the Indians (or his representative), give a high sign, and say something to the effect of "I come in peace...take me to your leader" even though inside he's saying "I've come to kill every single one of y'all....so let's get it on!"
I couldn't talk --weren't supposed to during the entire Ordeal process unless it was a true emergency (like the day before, when some kid almost cut his finger in two, not paying attention to what he was cutting...the wooden arrow or his fingers). So I couldn't "high sign" him and say, "I respect your bars and things.....I am proud to be a part of your Lodge, sir".
So, I bowed. I never did see that Scout -- a Vigil Honor member. I later found out that many Order of the Arrow members from other lodges would come and assist with Ordeal ceremonies so that he could have come from any number of other locations.