The Order of the Arrow

Hello Dear Reader

I was looking over a fellow scouters website (InsaneScouter) and I saw a page about the Order of the Arrow.

Now, this is not something we have within UK Scout Association. I am sure there are many secret boys clubs in UK Scout Association but the OA is not one of them.

The Order of the Arrow is a camp & service based programme within the Boy Scouts of America programme

The Order of the Arrow is Scouting’s National Honor Society.


The purpose of the Order of the Arrow is fourfold:

  • To recognize those Scout campers who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives
  • To develop and maintain camping traditions and spirit
  • To promote Scout camping
  • To crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others


The Order of the Arrow (OA) was founded by Dr. E. Urner Goodman and Carroll A. Edson in 1915 at the Treasure Island Camp of the Philadelphia Council, Boy Scouts of America. It became an official program experiment in 1922 and was approved as part of the Scouting program in 1934.

In 1948 the OA, recognized as the BSA’s national brotherhood of honor campers, became an official part of the national camping program of the Boy Scouts of America.


The OA has more than 176,000 members located in lodges affiliated with approximately 327 BSA local councils.


Scouts are elected to the Order by their fellow unit members, following approval by the Scoutmaster or Varsity team Coach. To become a member, a youth must be a registered member of a Boy Scout troop or Varsity Scout team and hold First Class rank. The youth must have experienced fifteen days and nights of Boy Scout camping during the two-year period prior to the election. The fifteen days and nights must include one, but no more than one, long-term camp consisting of six consecutive days and five nights of resident camping, approved and under the auspices and standards of the Boy Scouts of America. The balance of the camping must be overnight, weekend, or other short-term camps.

Adult selection is based on their ability to perform the necessary functions to help the Order fulfill its purpose, and is not for recognition. Selected adult Scouters must be an asset to the Order because of demonstrated abilities, and provide a positive role model for the youth members of the lodge.


The induction ceremony, called the Ordeal, is the first step toward full membership. During the experience, candidates maintain silence, receive small amounts of food, work on camp improvement projects, and are required to sleep alone, apart from other campers. The entire experience is designed to teach significant values.

Brotherhood Membership

After 10 months of service and fulfilling certain requirements, a member may take part in the Brotherhood ceremony, which places further emphasis on the ideals of Scouting and the Order. Completion of this ceremony signifies full membership in the OA.

Vigil Honor

After two years of service as a Brotherhood member, and with the approval of the national Order of the Arrow Committee, a Scout may be recognized with the Vigil Honor for outstanding service to Scouting, his lodge, and the community. This honor is bestowed by special selection and is limited to one person for every 50 members registered with the lodge each year.

Taken from the Official National Order of the Arrow Website

I should clarify my statement about the “secret boys club”. From an outsiders perspective, here is a section of Scouting where people wear different sashes and undergo rituals.

It is all a bit Masonic in my mind, but maybe my US scouting friends will disagree. However, it is my opinion and I am allowed to voice it.

The first time I came across the OA I was working as the International Scout Councillor and Assistant High Adventure Director (N.B. not that exciting) at Camp Long Lake, near Milwaukee WI.

On meeting an older gentleman who when we shook hands, seemed to tickle my palm with his fingers. This was very odd and I concluded that he was a weird old man. 

Mentioning this later to two of my very good friends on the camp it was explained to me that he was probably trying to see if I was a member of the OA and that there are different handshakes depending on whether you are a Brotherhood or Vigil. 

I am not sure how secret the handshakes are so I am not going to give away all the details. Suffice to say there is some linking of fingers. Thus why the guy ended up tickling my palm.

Now aware of the OA I was invited to the campfire where they “Tapped out” (selected/voted to become an Arrowman) the scouts. This seems to be a popularity contest where you are voted for by other scouts and welcomed into the Lodge.  The whole OA programme has strong Native American links with lodges, lodge chiefs.

So what is the point of your post Kiff. Well, I like the idea of a service-based organisation that supports and benefits those who exemplify the spirit of scouting. However, it should be for anyone what about the unpopular kid who no-one really likes, how does he become and arrowman if it is based on the votes of your peers?

The one thing I will say about it is the OA does promote a good scouting spirit. When you spent a number of hours cleaning up a toilet block to remove any graffiti, in silence only being allowed water (one of the rights of passage to Brotherhood) you look after it. If you see someone defacing what you have worked on you ask them not to.

At our county campsite, there is a problem with graffiti and minor vandalism. The main reason, the scouts don’t take ownership of the campsite in the same way as the US take ownership.

well that is my tuppence worth



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