In the latter-half of the 19th Century the United States witnessed an explosive growth in the number of societies and organizations aimed at bringing people together and improving society. It was the current of the times.“Reform” was key. As an agrarian society evolved into an urban industrial one, people dealt with an increasing sense of dislocation by banding together with like-minded folks. Not surprisingly, many of these groups were aimed at youth. Young people were seen as increasingly dissolute, falling to the temptations of the city as the old social mores that bound them fell away. At the dawn of the 20th Century dozens of youth groupsexisted. Some of these were social, some had a martial aspect to them and many of them were religious. Two groups that were to have a profound influence on the development of the Boy Scouts of America were Ernest Thompson Seton’s Woodcraft Indians (1902) and Daniel Carter Beard’s Sons of Daniel Boone (1905). Both men were naturalists, authors and artists with a penchant for the outdoors who sought to establish organizations that would combat the debilitating influences of the city and help restore to young men self-sufficiency and virility.
In England, Lord Robert Baden-Powell (B-P) regarded these organizations with interest. Baden-Powell was a veteran of the British colonial wars in South Africa. In 1899 7,000 Boers laid siege to 700 British at Mafeking and B-P, short on men, used uniformed boys as messengers, lookouts and orderlies. 217 days later he was relieved; Mafeking had not fallen, and he was regarded as a hero. When he returned to England in 1903 he found that the manual he had written for his boys—Aids to Scouting—had been bootlegged and was being widely used by boys for fun. He saw a need and began doing what any good Victorian would—organize. By 1908 he had put his ideas to the test at Brownsea Island and transformed his manual into Scouting for Boys. He based his book on his own martial experiences, Victorian notions of chivalry and duty, and much of what he found in the work of Seton and Beard. Within a few years troops dotted England.
The Transatlantic exchange continued. An apocryphal tale has it that American businessman William Dixon Boyce was lost in the London fog one night and stopped to ask a young lad for directions. The youth took him to his destination and refused to be compensated, saying he was a Scout and it was his duty to assist others. Boyce was impressed, made some inquiries and returned to the States primed to transplant the movement. On February 8, 1910 the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was incorporated. Seton wrote the first manual, based in turn upon the B-P manual and his earlier work The Birch Bark Roll. In these early days there was a lot of debate about the direction Scouting in America should take: follow B-P’s martial model or Seton’s example which was influenced by Native American lore and traditions. The B-P model won out, albeit with significant “Americanization” of the language of the law and the promise. It should be noted that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) did not at first hold a monopoly on Scouting. William Randolph Hearst had funded two more militaristic groups called American Boy Scouts and United States Boy Scouts. Peter Bomus had started the Boy Scouts of the United States (which had merged with the BSA by the Fall of 1910) and William Verbeck the National Scouts. The plethora of groups in this early period is more than an interesting historical footnote; it indicates just how much the notion of Scouting appealed to white America. Seton once claimed that B-P told him his original aim had been to prepare youth for war. The idea that Scouting was somehow a response to the dwindling colonial interests of Great Britain—and that its’ even wilder success in America a response to the beginnings of colonialism in this country (the Spanish-American War of 1899 being commonly regarded as America’s first colonial war)—merits further examination. The original Scout uniform, after all, is essentially that of a Rough Rider, or a doughboy.
B-P’s Scouting movement had emphasized campaigning, camp life, tracking, chivalry, lifesaving, citizenship, etc. He devised the promise and law, the sign, salute and handshake. Each grade of Masonry, of course, has its own promises (obligations), hailing signs and handshakes (grips). One could also point out that the hierarchy of Scouting, a system of ranks culminating in the Eagle, is similar to Freemasonry, a system of degrees that in the Scottish Rite culminates in the Double Eagle. There are seven ranks in Scouting; seven steps figure prominently in the Middle Chamber Lecture of the Masonic 2nd Degree. Philosophically, a Scout’s duty to God and Country, his brotherhood and the slogan “Do a good turn daily” is something with which any Freemason would concur. B-P himself was not a Freemason, but his good friend Rudyard Kipling was, and it is known that Kipling influenced B-P in the formation of the Cub Scouts. B-P himself stated that he could not be a Freemason because he did not want to offend Roman Catholic Scouts, but he seemed to have approved of it, and Freemasons of him. In Australia, for example, there are four Lodges named after B-P, one of which he visited and signed its Bible. Furthermore, B-P was a Knight of Grace of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. Freemasons recognize a bond with this order and both Saint John the Baptist and John the Evangelist are the Patron Saints of Craft Masonry (Craft, or Blue Lodge Masonry, refers to the first three degrees). The symbol of John the Evangelist is of course the Eagle; the Boy Scout Eagle is superimposed upon a fleur-de-lis, the international symbol of Scouting.
The fleur-de-lis, incidentally, is a symbol used by nearly all civilizations past and present, from 3rd millennium B.C. Assyria to modern-day Quebec. It has been variously interpreted as an iris, lily or lotus and said to stand for purity, light and perfection. It has been associated with both Christ and the Virgin Mary and used as a military emblem by Joan of Arc and units of the United States Army. It’s association with the French monarchy dates back to the Merovingian King Clovis, who was said to have received the symbol directly from God upon his baptism. Another story is that Clovis, on his way to fight the Aquitaine King Alaric near Poitiers, was led by a doe to a hidden ford in a river. After crossing, he placed one of the yellow irises growing on the banks in his helmet. He was eventually victorious. Perhaps one story is the metaphorical retelling of the other. When exactly the fleur-de-lis was adopted as a heraldic emblem by the French kings is still a matter of divided opinion, but it appears on coins and scepters as early as the 10th century. One author states that it was probably under Saint Bernard’s influence that Louis VII (1154-1180) adopted it as a personal emblem, having by that time acquired a strong religious significance. Incidentally, Saint Bernard is also said to be the primary inspiration behind the Knights Templar—the highest grades of York Rite Masonry are called Knights Templar.
Back in America, there are other affinities. The Church of Latter Day Saints, whose Temple Ceremonies are based upon Freemasonic ceremonies, was the first religious body to officially recognize the BSA, in 1913. The Lone Scouts of America, begun in 1915, became a BSA program in 1922. William Dixon Boyce commissioned one F. Allen Morgan to develop tests by which Lone Scouts could earn degrees. Morgan said Seton, Beard and Freemasonry influenced him. In 1924 the Lone Scout program was fully absorbed by the BSA, but Lone Scouts continued to earn degrees until the mid-1930’s.
In New Zealand, another Boer war veteran and friend of B-P named Major David Cossgrove (probably not a Freemason) started something for older boys called the “Empire Sentinels.” Sentinels were organized into “Towers” and the scheme had three degrees based on religious duty, patriotism, sacrifice and work, each with a corresponding “Watch,” or ritual. A quick list of other details, gleaned from letters between Cossgrove and B-P, shows that the idea had very direct Masonic affinities: The Tower is opened on the third Watch and dropped to the first or second as required; Sentinels enter the Watch using a password and a salute; the alarm is a series of knocks; halters and blindfolds are used; the phrase “So Mote it Be” is used; there are four principal officers; the Watch works in darkness with the symbols of each Watch illuminated. Substitute the word “Lodge” for “Tower” and “Degree” for “Watch” and one finds practically no difference from describing the workings of a Masonic Lodge. In a letter to B-P dated 1919, Cossgrove writes: “….the scheme has already been taken up enthusiastically in Africa, America and in Austria, I believe, and will be here when our young warriors return and settle down….” He is presumably referring to young men abroad in the British colonial army, and the attitude of his letter does much to support the theory that Scouting was given impetus by colonial psychology. They were, after all, the Empire Sentinels. But where, if Cossgrove was not a Mason, did the Masonry of the Empire Sentinels come from? That remains a mystery.
While there is no evidence that the Empire Sentinels blueprint was “taken up enthusiastically in…America,” there is plenty of evidence, much more copious, of another scheme that was. On July 16, 1915, two Scouters named E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson founded the Order of the Arrow at Treasure Island, the summer camp of the Philadelphia Council. Edson was a 32° Scottish Rite Mason; Goodman only became a Mason after the OA was founded but also eventually attained the 32°. The writing of the ritual, however, was entrusted to another, unknown 32° Mason. (Interestingly enough, the Masonic affiliation of its founders is omitted from the official OA history from which the following details were culled. There is, in fact, not one single reference to Freemasonry throughout the book.) By 1922, the year the first Grand Lodge of the OA was formed, ten Lodges were known to be in existence. This was also the year of the first OA “crisis.” In September of that year a biennial national BSA meeting was held to discuss various topics; one of the first items on the agenda was the existence of camp fraternities and secret societies, which some present felt ought to be discouraged. Carroll Edson rose to their defense by saying: “If we find…that we can effectively use ceremony and symbolism in furthering Scout ideals of personal service, why should the entire body…say you shan’t do it?” Edson was not only articulating the raison d’être of the OA but reveals a very Masonic point of view. Most definitions of Freemasonry speak of it as an organization which uses “ceremony and symbolism” to instill in its members the purpose of the Craft. In any event, the OA was not banned and allowed to continue if its growth was not actively promoted—another similarity to Freemasonry, which traditionally does not promote itself through recruitment. An interesting innovation of the OA is that non-members elect Arrowmen; it may be the only organization of its kind that follows such a practice.
By 1934 there were 45 active OA Lodges and the BSA officially approved the OA for use nationwide. As part of this approval, however, several changes were required of the OA by the BSA. According to the official history, “The BSA requested these changes to avoid confusion with other usages of these same terms.” For “other usages” substitute “Masonic usages.” The changes included using “tribe” instead of “lodge,” “national” instead of “grand,” “honor” instead of “degree” and “admonition” instead of “password.” These changes have persisted into the present with one exception. In 1936 the use of “lodge” was re-approved, ostensibly to avoid confusion with the use of “tribe” by Lone Scouts.
What happened in 1934 was a “de-Masonification” of the OA nomenclature, but the basic Masonic structure remains. The Order of the Arrow consists of three honors: Ordeal, Brotherhood (known in 1927 as the “blood-rite” degree!) and Vigil Honor. These correspond to the three Masonic degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason. In the OA, each honor has its own handshake, hailing sign, and “password”. (For the Ordeal this is called the admonition. The Brotherhood member responds to a ritual question. The Vigil Honor has three watchwords.) Each honor has its own obligation and ceremony that intensifies the teachings of the Order. In Masonry, each degree has its own grip, step, sign, password and obligation. We have already noted that they are both organized into Lodges; in the OA one National Lodge enforces regularity. For Freemasonry there is a Grand Lodge for every state.
And what of the OA initiation ceremonies? First, the Lodge is opened after it has been determined “all present are members.” This is done by demanding the handshake and password of the honor to be performed from those present. In the Ordeal, for example, the admonition is whispered into the ears of a member by a chief called Kichkinet while hands are clasped, and the member responds by whispering its’ definition. The Lodge is then opened during which time the sign of the degree is given. The candidates are announced and Kichkinet is sent out to greet them.
In Freemasonry the Lodge is opened in the same manner. Membership is determined with the grip and word, whispered into the ear, hands clasped, and the Lodge is opened on the sign of the degree. The candidates are announced and the Junior Warden is sent out to greet the candidates.
In the Ordeal ritual, the OA candidates are conducted by an “elangomat” (friend) to the ritual circle where they meet Kichkinet, who becomes their conductor and prepares them by symbolically binding them with a rope by which he leads them into the circle. They are led clockwise around the circle and challenged three more times by other chiefs—Nutiket, Meteu and Allowat Sakima—where the same questions are asked and answered. Kichkinet, Nutiket, Meteu and Allowat Sakima represent the guide, the guard, the medicine man, and the mighty chief. They exchange three ritual taps on the shoulders, before Kichkinet is asked:
“Who are these strangers who seek admission to our circle?”
“How do they expect to obtain this privilege?”
“Have they passed the ordeal without flinching?”
Here Nutiket lets them enter, but Meteu and Allowat Sakima inquire further:
“Have they been given the admonition?”
Answer: “They have not, but I, their friend, have received it, and will give it to you
“What is the admonition?”
In Freemasonry, candidates are led by a steward, already “bound” by rope and blindfolded, into a similar situation. The Junior Deacon, who exchanges three ritual taps on the Lodge door with the steward, meets them. A challenge follows. Although the language is different from that of the OA, the essence is the same. Who are these strangers? How do they expect to obtain the privilege of entry? Have they the password? They do not, but their guide does and gives it for them. They are then turned over to the care of the Junior Deacon and led clockwise, around a square, and meet the same challenge three more times. In these instances the three ritual taps are banged out on mallets and answered by staves banged on the floor.
After their circuit of the Lodge, Allowat Sakima orders the candidates placed in “the proper position to receive further knowledge,” just as the Worshipful Master orders in Freemasonry. They do this by taking three steps forward, mimicking the steps a Masonic candidate makes. When they have received the Obligation, they are told to drop the rope they have been carrying and taught the hailing sign, handshake and admonition. They are then presented with the sash that marks their membership in the Order. The sash is worn over the right shoulder, is white, and represents a red arrow. In Masonry the candidate, when he has received the Obligation, is released from the cable-tow and given the signs, token, grip and word of his degree. He is then presented with a white apron, which in the Entered Apprentice degree is worn with one corner tucked up so as to form a triangle. In both Freemasonry and the OA, there then follows an explanation of the ritual. Following that, the Lodge is closed, with each principal recapitulating his role in the Lodge. Both OA and Craft Lodges follow this procedure.
There are differences. The OA candidate does not take his Obligation upon a Volume of Sacred Law, (i.e. a Bible, Torah or Koran) nor does he take the Obligation blindfolded. Much of the dramatic and symbolic effect of this moment of Freemasonic ritual depends upon the removal of the blindfold, but the effect is not entirely absent in the OA. Three candles placed in a triangle around the Volume of Sacred Law represent the light in Masonry, and the OA candidate takes his Obligation in front of a campfire, which in a small pre-Ordeal ceremony the night before, remained unlit. While current ritual handbooks require nothing specific of the campfire other than it be in the center, a reconstruction of the original 1915 ceremony says the fire should be made in the shape of a triangle. (Some Lodges continue this tradition today. Incidentally, Masons use the triangle to represent Deity and the sash of the Vigil Honor has a triangle with three small arrows inside superimposed upon the larger red arrow of the Ordeal sash.) Three candles, however, are also present; they represent the Scout Promise and are placed in the North. Furthermore, because OA ceremonies usually take place after nightfall in a remote location, the effect of being brought into the circle is in itself similar to being brought into the light.
Other differences should be mentioned here. For example, the OA Lodge is not a square, but a circle. Additionally, the challenges made in an OA Lodge occur in the South, West and North, the North being the position of the mighty chief Allowat Sakima. In Freemasonry the challenges occur in the South, West and East, the East being the position of the Worshipful Master. It is tempting to say that the East, by its very exclusion in the OA, is emphasized. In the 1915 ceremony Kichkinet was called “Guard” and acted as “guardian of the trail.” Nutiket was called “Sachem” and acted as outer guard. “Sakima” was inner guard, and “Medeu” was head of the Lodge. His position in the north was explained thusly: “As in the heavens, the north star is fixed and all the other stars revolve around it, so stands Medeu in the north for the lodge circle to revolve around him. He, alone, opens, directs, and closes the lodge.” (Interestingly enough, the Chief Sentinel in the Empire Sentinels scheme was positioned in the north.) In Freemasonry, a different astronomical metaphor is used to explain the Worshipful Master’s position and duties in the East, but the language is strikingly similar.
In the 1915 ceremony the closing bears a sharper Masonic character than current practice; the characters’ functions are explained in a language and fashion much more reminiscent of Freemasonry than one finds in current ritual, and in other parts of the ritual one finds reference to “rites,” “mysteries” or “our mystic circle,” but no longer. The move away from this Masonic character is probably a result of the de-Masonification of 1934, but the original ceremony surely lies closer to the founders’ inspirations. Interestingly, the letter of introduction which accompanies this earlier ritual is dated “October 1, 1915 + 60” (i.e. 1975), a dating method which brings to mind Masonic methods of dating. According to Craft Lodge dating, for example, the current year is 6003 A.L., i.e. 2003 A.D. + 4000. What is clear from the two methods, despite their differences, is that a new timeline begins with the founding of the Lodge.
The OA rituals are much simpler than those of Freemasonry, but the basic structure is the same: the Lodge is ceremonially opened, the ritual performed, a recapitulation of the ritual is given and the Lodge is ceremonially closed. In 1927 the OA Grand Lodge proposed a series of questions to test the Brotherhood candidate’s knowledge of the structure and significance of the Ordeal ceremony in a fashion clearly modeled on the “questions and answers” a Masonic candidate must know before advancing to the next degree. The OA ceremonies, however, unlike Masonic rituals, become shorter and simpler as one progresses; the Brotherhood ceremony retains the structure summarized above, but the Vigil Honor abandons it all together. Thus the highest honor of the OA is ritualistically the least Masonic; it appears to derive from Seton. The OA seeks to instill the value of Brotherhood, Cheerfulness and Service into its members and in that there is no disaccord with the expressed values of the Craft. Both groups share common values, are traditionally male and share a similar hierarchic structure. In the OA we do not find any explicit interpolation of Masonic values; rather, there is an intensification of values already present in Scouting. The Masonic values are almost incidental. What is more important, however, is the very Masonic vehicle Goodman and Edson chose to communicate these values. They understood the power of ceremony and symbolism as a means of instilling ideas. Not surprisingly, a candidate for the OA must be a more advanced Scout, 1st Class or higher, which requires a lad to be a slightly older adolescent. The OA is an intensification of the Scouting experience, a rite of passage for young lads embarking on the path to manhood. Like many others before them, Goodman and Edson drew upon a familiar and proven system, Freemasonry, for their inspiration.
A cursory glance over the history of fraternal organizations in America will reveal that the majority of them have drawn heavily on Freemasonry. From college fraternities to the Knights of Pythias, one finds the Masonic stamp. On the more esoteric side of things, in England we find Freemasonic influences in the rituals of the Golden Dawn, the O.T.O. and Gardner’s Wicca. In America we find Freemasonry behind Mormon rituals and in a host of irregular and crypto-Masonic practitioners of ritual magick, some of them practicing along legitimate lines of inquiry opened up by Freemasonry. Perhaps it should not be surprising that BSA literature ignores the obvious Masonic characteristics of one its most popular institutions.