The Secret Behind the Order of the Arrow


    By Lisa Donchak

    Initiation ceremonies are rarely so rigorous.

    This one takes at least two days and involves a 24-hour vow of silence, smaller-than-usual meals and strenuous manual labor in the wilderness. Not only that, but the ceremonies, which include colorful, feathery and elaborate Native American costumes, are complex enough to require multiple diagrams and pages and pages upon text and pre-written scripts to explain.

    But that’s all a secret.

    “Most of the stuff is actually not that bad,” said Rob Heffern, an applied physics major graduating from UC Santa Cruz this quarter. “I probably [shouldn’t] tell you exactly what goes on.”

    The organization, which Heffern is a part of, is not secret, although it may not be very well known. The Order of the Arrow [OA] is the honor society for the Boy Scouts.

    The organization, founded in 1915, is made up of peer-elected scouts who best exemplify the ideals of scouting. OA is very family-oriented, and there is no upper age limit. Often, fathers and sons will be initiated together, and in many cases, whole families are involved in the organization. But because of its history and reputation as a conservative organization, OA has not been free of controversy.

    Because OA was founded to serve the Boy Scouts, officially, the organizations share the same policies and ideas. This means that neither organization allows openly gay members. In addition, just as girls are not allowed to join the Boy Scouts, women can only join OA after their 21st birthday and usually only do so as mothers of initiated scouts. The fact that OA traditions are heavily influenced by Native American culture has been a source of debate as well.

    Despite the controversy, the organization has provided an opportunity for scouts to continue scouting past the age of 18, and for some, it still provides meaningful connections and experiences.

    Before scouts can take part in OA campouts and events, they must take part in the secret initiation ceremony. Often, initiates aren’t quite sure what they are in for.

    “The Order of the Arrow keeps its ceremonies quiet, because there is symbolism in them that is best understood by going through them without prior knowledge,” said Jon Colby, who has been in the OA since 2001. “[The secrecy] helps make the experience more meaningful. All I can really tell you about my initial Ordeal is that it was a challenge, physically, mentally and spiritually. I don’t want to say any more.”

    In order to be eligible for election, a Scout must be a “first-class” scout and have completed 15 days of camping over the past two years. However, as long as the scout is a Boy Scout, there is no minimum age threshold, and, as mentioned, no upper age limit either.

    The mysticism of the ceremony, called the Ordeal, is intended to benefit younger scouts who may one day go through it themselves. The idea is that they will have a greater appreciation for the ceremony if they do not know what to expect.

    The local lodge, which serves the Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey County areas, held an initiation ceremony last weekend for about 25 scouts. The Esselen 531 Ordeal took place in Big Sur and was a weekend-long event. The scouts drove down on Friday, did their Ordeal work throughout the weekend, and came back on Sunday.

    Jim Von Schmacht, the lodge adviser for the local OA lodge, Esselen 531, emphasized the benefits of a physically strenuous Ordeal.

    “It puts [scouts] in the same mind where we can talk to them about things like leadership and service to others. [The Ordeal is] the vehicle we use to get to them to talk about the principles of the Order of the Arrow.”

    Although the initiation ceremony is supposed to be secret, any concerned adult is allowed to watch the Ordeal.

    Scouting in America is a complex network. Within the overall association, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), there are Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Venture Scouts, Varsity Scouts and Sea Scouts, just to name a few. Since Order of the Arrow only serves the Boy Scouts, female scouts must wait until they are 21 to join.

    “We get some of the hardy camping moms, like my wife,” said von Schmacht. “There’s nothing wrong with women. Women are cool. They’re some of our hardest workers. Literally.”

    OA has three levels, known as “honors.” After 10 months in the organization, Arrowmen are eligible to be Brotherhood members in the organization. After another two years, they can become Vigil members.

    Jim’s son, Kyle von Schmacht, is a first-year at UCSC and a Vigil member of OA. He joined Boy Scouts in second grade as a Wolf Scout and joined OA when he was 12.

    Although scouting has played a large part in his life, Kyle hesitates to tell those he meets at UCSC about his scouting experience. Many Californians, and UCSC students in particular, tend to see the BSA as a more conservative organization.

    “I don’t really openly advertise [my involvement] around here,” Kyle said. “I’m concerned about the reaction. Most people are fine with scouts, but I tend to be cautious. Most of the people I’ve run into have been nice about it, although once I wore my Sea Scout hat and got a lot of dirty looks.”

    Kyle von Schmacht and his father were the first members of their family to join OA, undertaking ceremony together. Later, both Kyle’s mother and his younger brother joined the organization.

    The Esselen 531 lodge participates in a variety of activities throughout the year, including two Ordeal ceremonies, training sessions, and, of course, campouts. The lodge, one of the largest in Northern California, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

    Scott Caldwell is a Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 633 in Santa Cruz, as well as an OA member. His Boy Scout troop does a lot of traveling; they recently went to Canada and New Mexico and will visit Puerto Rico this year.

    “About 15 years ago, my kids wanted to go to Hawaii,” Caldwell said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah right, we’ve been there three times.’”

    In order to join OA, scouts must be selected and elected by their Boy Scout troop. This was part of the original design of the organization.

    “The boys in the troop know who’s the meanie, who’s the bully, who’s popular in the troop,” Caldwell said. “They vote for the scout who [they] would want to camp with.”

    OA members visit each troop to pitch the organization to the Scouts. However, some Scoutmasters aren’t as open to letting OA members come talk to their troops.

    Caldwell’s troop didn’t interact with OA until recently. Still, Caldwell says he encourages his scouts to join OA.

    “[They] get more training,” he said.

    Since OA usually targets older scouts, some Scoutmasters fear that OA would divert the attention of some of the stronger youth leaders in their troop.

    Caldwell disagrees.

    “[As an Arrowman,] your first duty is back to your troop,” he said. “It’s not as if they’re taking [scouts] away.”

    Although officials like Caldwell are satisfied with the organization overall, the OA is not void of various criticisms. One of the main conflicts arises from the Native American origins of the organization’s OA.

    “We do Indian games, we do Native American dances,” said Michael W. Keller Jr., a UCSC alumnus . “It’s a big part of the [OA] culture. My lodge, Ohlone 63, probably has about 10 to 15 teepees. And when we go to events we bring those teepees with us.”

    Jim talked about how the Native American culture can help OA members understand certain ideas.

    “We’ve had blessings and concern from the Native American community,” Jim said. “We use [their culture] as a vehicle to get points across. The most powerful things we learn we learn through symbols and ceremonies.”

    Heffern, however, was a little confused about the inclusion of the culture.

    “OA is very Native American-based,” he said. “Then again, there aren’t many Native Americans in Boy Scouts. It always felt kind of strange to me.”

    In 1998, the Order of the Arrow refashioned their logo from the Stylized Indianhead, colloquially called the MGM Indianhead, to an arrowhead. According to Jim, the Native American community asked the OA to change the logo. However, the OA website does not note the reason.

    According to Jim von Schmacht, the image was altered because, back in the days of the Old West, the image of the Indian head was posted outside of stores that were offering $5 to anyone who brought in the severed head of an Indian. Because of the stigmas surrounding the image, the OA changed the symbol.

    Face painting is another tradition that OA has been eliminated from their practices.

    “A long time ago, face paint was worn [by scouts],” Jim said,. “And it’s not anymore. That’s due to a conversation with Native Americans.”

    “It’s all about reverence,” he continued. “And we’re not trying to offend anyone.”

    Andrew Hart, a student at San Jose State University, was a chapter chief for Order of the Arrow before he left home for college.

    “I’m sure you could take something away from [our ceremonies] and be horribly insulted by it,” Hart said. “But the thing is that the OA as a whole has a very strong connection with the Indian community. We try to gain their respect and we often get it.”

    The BSA has also been under attack for its stance against homosexuality, one which the OA also officially enforces.

    Scout troop leaders cannot be gay, atheist or agnostic, since a Supreme Court ruling in 2000. The Supreme Court came to its decision based on the fact that the BSA is a private organization and may determine its own rules.

    However, many local troops don’t adhere strictly to these specific rules.

    “The whole thing about scouting is that we don’t push our beliefs, religion or sexual preference on the kids,” Caldwell said. “I know a few scout leaders who are gay, but they don’t push their belief on the kids. If your family’s that way and that’s your belief, we respect that. As soon as you start pushing your morals, your beliefs, on the kids, then we ask you to leave.”

    In general, the attitude towards homosexuality in Californian troops is more relaxed than in other parts of the United States.

    “We’re very open-minded,” Caldwell said. “We’ve had atheists throughout the years. I had one mom who was pagan.”

    Within the organization, many troops have adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality of the military.

    “I never knew until later on [that some scouts were gay],” Keller said. “It didn’t bother me. They didn’t let their sexual preference harm anybody else, and they kept it to themselves.”

    Despite these West Coast leniencies, the organization has retained a conservative reputation. Today, fewer and fewer boys are joining the Boy Scouts and staying active. In California, the conservative notoriety is part of the reason for the lower enrollment. Keller explained that the declining popularity of the BSA would inevitably affect that of the OA as well.

    “Nowadays scouting is not as popular as it used to be,” Keller said. “It’s seen as militaristic and it’s seen as very conservative. [Scouting is] very close-minded, I’ll say. Santa Cruz is very diverse and liberal.”

    He continued, “If scouting fails, OA fails. [The BSA] needs to open its eyes and change a little bit.”

    In the recent past, there have been fewer boys participating in scouting, which both Keller and Hart theorize is not only due to the organization’s conservative nature , but also to a simple lack of time on the part of participants.

    “We will initiate 200 or 300 boys [at a time],” Hart said. “Most of these people get their sash, come to a meeting once a year, and get to the next level, but they aren’t active. The term we coined was the ‘OA reserve.’ But they proudly sport the patch and sash.”

    Despite the flaws of the organization, scouts who participate in Order of the Arrow find it to be a very meaningful experience.

    “Our paycheck is seeing the youth that we work with blossom and grow and go beyond anything we would ever expected,” Jim von Schmacht said. “It’s a feeling that’s hard to express. The [scouts] constantly surprise us. They go beyond what we ever expect of them.”

    • Ianderson7734

      Thank you I am thirteen years old and am currently a brotherhood member. I completely agree and we do not ever intensionally do anything to insult native Americans. I am sorry if we do but by using the native american traditions we learn a lot. we are by no means a secret society to anyone other than scouts who are trying to get in and that is only to have more of an impact

      • B

        It is really unimportant whether or not you “intentionally” do anything to insult Native Americans with your made up ceremonies. That does not negate the fact that every ceremony you do where a non-Native American dresses up as one to perform a mimic of a Native American character is insulting.

         In fact the way you spelled Native American in your reply, “native American” is in and of itself insulting.

        • Docmorgan77

          This young man answered a blog about an organization he is a member of to the best of his ability….and in respect for youth, he is 13. You talk of sins either of omission or commission. Is this true with Dustin Hoffman playing a “N”ative American in the film  “Little Big Man?” To the point? Are “YOU” insulted? Are you insulted for me for my heritage? I am not by this in any sense of the word. I am 1/4 Cherokee and find the ceremonies neutral. I was a Native American Scout, and I am a Native American Scouter(who is also a Vigil Honor member of a merged lodge) and I am “STILL” of  Native American heritage.

          YIS(yours in service)
          D Morgan
          class of ’71’ Eagle Scout
          Vigil   Ashie Lodge #436

          If you have any questions about the secretive nature of this group, ask your BSA councils local lodge for a face to face.

    • AJ

      Fewer boys are participating, because of the greater and greater legal requirements.  Every time I turn around there are more forms, more interviews, more training, etc..  Biggest reason we’re in, is that it’s one of the last avenues of a good consertive role models available for youth today.  I’m sorry, but if you make BSA more liberal/progressive… we’re gone. 

      Thank goodness we won’t have to worry about that for a long time.. as I live in the “free” world….. (Texas)!

      • B

        In my opinion, it would be a good thing if BSA was gone.  Nothing that BSA teaches applies in todays world. The founder was a Nazi. Most of the rural Troops are run by bigoted white supremacists. Even the Troops in metro areas don’t match the local demographics. My area is 50% hispanic, but the Troops are 95% white.

        As for Texas, if you don’t want to be in the Union…leave…we don’t need you.

        • SWThomas

          HEY! I am a 14 year old Eagle Scout who is an brotherhood member in the OA. I wish that you would NOT post that! That is a horrible thing to say about the BSA and i will have to ask you to not post any more because i sure most people would like you to stop.

        • Scoutmaster in Texas

          In my opinion, your opinion reeks of bigotry and ignorance. None of your “facts” can be supported, which is why you make no attempt to do so. I wonder how someone can have a life so small as to haunt a comment section on the internet to sow ignorance and hatred.

          • Einhard701

            There will always be people who hate the scouts, but OA provides not only service, but teaches our scouts the importance of thinking of others. Whether it is someone outside of our family, troop, church, state, country, etc., OA helps show that we all can help others. I am very proud to be an Arrowman and hope that someday my son will follow in my footsteps and be selected to join the order.

        • So when you say there is no real world application to BSA. Do you understand everything you do in the Boy Scouts is relivent to Living a life. If you have good morals and can accomplish task this most certainly transfers to real world. And everything you learn survival wise in the scouts can save there life and others because it only takes 20 seconds for a situation to turn fatal in most casses and a typical American will not be able to react within a minute in a bad situation. Scouts teaches kid’s not to be brats and the kids you see disrespecting there parents. Maybe if more parents made there kids go into BSA then the new generation of kids wouldn’t be disrespectful brats. and the only reason i can see why you have to write a comment like that is that you were always that jock or douche in school that picked on kids that were in scouts, or your just a complete idiot. And yes im an eagle scout and would like you to talk shit face to face. I’d show you what I learned that transcribes to real life. well it would prolly be a combination of the 13 years of go-jyu-ru karate and my knot tying skills. 

        • CaliforniaClassy

          I’ve learned good leadership skills and through the STEM program they can learn about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. They can also learn first aid, survival skills, and safety techniques. Through Sea Scouts they can learn to sail and be safe at sea. They learn to work in groups and there’s even merit badges for physical fitness and personal management. You clearly should do your research. I’m a moderate-liberal senior girl in high school and I joined venturing as a youth and boy scouts as an adult because the values, friendships, and skills that the program helps you create, develop, and cherish are wonderful. Please learn more before you go around bashing things that you can’t even comprehend without experience.

        • Hello, I am an ASPL of my troop and I am hoping to be elected for OA next week. So I would like to ask you a question. What if you were stranded in the middle of the woods and you had no self – phone? What would you do then? Or someone’s life was in danger. BSA teaches Boys how to help make a world a better place. It does not have to apply to the real world sometimes. If BSA was not here there would be many people dead or lifes at risk. Think about that. To mention I may not live in Texas ,but we need Texas. Maybe you don’t .but we do.

    • B

      Really? Until my stepson got involved in Scouting, I’d never heard of OA, and I grew up in community where Scouting was a big deal. At every parade the Scouts would be out an identified…but never OA.  Scouts would perform community services, but never OA. Sounds pretty secret to me.

    • Nathan Calia

      I do find it difficult when I hear people throwing arround some of are secrets like they aren’t secret.

    • Ghallen1980

      My name is Gary Allen, In was a member of pack 190 then troop 190 Upper Manhattan District, New York, NY. At this time we were the largest Black Scout Troop in New York City or east harlem our headquarters was located at the Abraham Lincoln Projects on the East River. I loved Scouting I always thought of scouting and drempt of scouting. I worked hard and studied hard for every one of my 23 merit badges, but the greatest thrill of my scouting was to be elected by my fellow troop members to particapate in the Order Of The Arrow Ordeal, truthfully I was afraid I had heard of the terrible things they did to you during your ordeal, I had seen a fellow troop member the year before go through his ordeal for three days he wore a stick in his mouth he could not speak to us and he had to sleep under the stars alone with no sleeping bag or blanket. We were’nt allowed to watch the ceremony but they had a feast after their induction and I was next in my troop who  would have endure this torture. I succeded with my ordeal and two years later I recieved my Brotherhood Sash and I became a memember of the ceramonial team I played the part of Metau the medicine man of the lodge it was thrilling my part was long and my costume was terrifing especially the buffalo horns. this was an adventure I greatly miss and think of often. Scouting and the Order especially camping at Alpine Scout Camp, New Jersey, Camp Pouch, Staten Island and the best Scout in the east Ten Mile River Scout Camp, Narrowsburg, NY. I am 60 y/o now and to remember those good old days in Scouting I truley belive was GOD sent. WWW

      • SWThomas

        thank you! this is what both BSA and the Order is about. both making boys into smarter, stronger, and nicer people and giving them life long memories. i love both the Order and the BSA. it’s part of me and i love being part of it! i could not see my life with out it.

      • 17110

        WWW- I am curently in the Order and I am Meteu For the pre-ordeal and i live for the next time I am in a ceremony.

    •  If it were a secret society you wouldn’t know about it.  It is however an honor society.  It recognizes and promotes Scouts and Scouters that exemplify the Scout Oath and Motto.

      • tango

        You’ve been brainwashed very well. Keep spouting the party line!

        • Epic Pie Guy

          People like you make me worry about humanity.

    • Hearne1932

      The Biggest thing that people have a hard time understanding is that we don’t keep secrets we just make it slightly difficult for people to gain access to everything, but we will give it to anyone that really wants to know to make sure that this is right for there son. One thing that was wrong is that girls can join Scouting under the age of 21 but not the OA. Venturing is a BSA program that is co-ed. I really think that the OA should allow girls to join prior to 21. Vigil honor member 2011.

    • Ed Palmer

      ** “pre-written scripts”

      All ceremonies are developed by the OA National Committee in order to
      ensure they meet standards for respect of the American Indian cultures.

      ** “provided an opportunity for scouts to continue scouting past the age of 18”

      You have to be a registered BSA member to be an active member of the OA. Young men over 18 can register as Unit College Scouter Reserve, become an assistant Scoutmaster or join Venturing.

      ** “secret initiation ceremony”

      This has not been a secret since the mid-1980s— the term used is ‘safeguarded’. The OA attempts to keeps the ceremonies a mystery so as to not spoil the ceremonies:

      “The Order of the Arrow, recognizing the attractiveness of the unknown,
      utilizes the form of mystery. This shall not be interpreted, however,
      as justifying the withholding of any information regarding the
      Order from any person legitimately interested in investigating
      its nature, purpose, or method. Nothing in the Order shall be
      interpreted as interfering with any member’s religious obligation.

      **”Within the overall association, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), there
      are Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Venture Scouts, Varsity Scouts and Sea

      There are no Girl Guides or Venture Scouts in the US— the closest would be in Canada.

      The BSA has three membership divisions with some subdivisions:
      * Cub Scouting: boys first to fifth-grade; or, 7 to 11½ years
      * Boy Scouting: boys 10 to 18 years
        *Varsity Scouting: boys 14 to 18 years
      * Venturing: young men and women 13 through 21 years
        * Sea Scouting young men and women 13 through 21 years

      The Order of the Arrow is the honor society for the Boy Scouting division, not the entire BSA. Venturing has an unofficial honor society called the Corps of Discovery.

      **”refashioned their logo from the Stylized Indianhead,… to an arrowhead… However, the OA
      website does not note the reason.”

      “We will adopt a new logo; one focused on the Arrow rather than the
      Indian. The Arrow is easily the most recognizable symbol that has its
      origin in our first ceremony. By taking the Arrowhead from the Arrow on
      the sash as our logo, we unify our image and strengthen the identity
      embodied in our name, the Order of the Arrow ”

      Ed P., assistant Scoutmaster, Eagle Scout, Arrowman

    • Rtaranti

      strange no one mentioned the http://WWW…. very special thoughts go out to all those brothers of the order and the memories that I’ll have forever….

    • Meteu

      I respect you for keeping our secrets secret.As Meteu I say thankyou

    • Tuney Netapolis

      I know this may be late but I received the Vigil Honor in 2012, as well as my Eagle Scout earlier that year. The OA was started from the traditions of one tribe, the Lenni Lenape. The national standard was adjusted for each area of the country to adjust their ceremonies costuming to be more relatable to the area. Being a proud member of Nawakwa Lodge 3, the second oldest lodge in the country, I have had many opportunities I never could have had with out it. The principles of the order are the 3 Ws and the literally represent brotherhood of cheerful service. I have gained many close friends due to the order because we are a brotherhood. Some of these friends are 30+ years old, compared to the 17 year old I am. Each lodge has an excutive committee that has decisions made solely by youth with the guidance of adults. Give me one place where that exist, along with being a close nit service based organization. One is elected to the OA and later chosen for the Vigil Honor not only for what he/she has done, but what he/she is expected to do. I could not imagine my life without the order.
      Jacob Patterson “Tuney Netapolis”
      Eagle Scout c/o 2012
      Vigil Honor member

    • James T

      I was never in OA. Never even heard of it. I found these photos on line labeled Boy Scout Games showing kids around 12 or 13 tied to posts or trees wearing only their briefs. They had very serious looks on their faces. Is that part of the secrets in OA? If not what’s going on?

      • Ed

        No, this is not the OA or anything to do with the BSA.

    • Chris

      I wish I could avoid shaming my parents and family with accepting the OA’s offers, but I still feel that I cannot be a part of it. I do not believe in their ideals nor am I of their conservative allegiance.

    • Question, say I turned 18 while in OA, would I still be able to keep advancing ranks after 18 years old in the OA?

      • Nathan M

        No, I’m sorry. The only way to rank advance is before the age of 18. You can however, hold your board of review after your 18th birthday.

        • JohnH

          The Order of the Arrow does allow adults to advance. I became a Vigil as a Scout when I was 16. My Father, an Asst. Scoutmaster, was inducted thru the ordeal, later was Lodge Adviser, etc and rose to Vigil Honor as well a couple of years after me.

    • James

      I would just like to say on the whole homosexuality topic that it’s not the BSA that is banning gay involvement it is there owners as of now and since the late 90’s the Mormon church owns 90% of the BSA and their views on homosexuality and atheism are pretty well know so the president of the BSA has no choice but listen to the owners also I myself am a brotherhood member of the OA in the Mowogo lodge 243

      • Mark Wynn

        “Owners of the BSA …” ??

      • Bill Hartman

        Let’s get a few things straight here. The word “owned” is simply incorrect and inapplicable. No one “owns” the Boy Scouts of America.

        Authority does arise out of the sponsoring institutions (the churches, community centers, fire departments, fraternal organizations, etc. that sponsor Scout troop or other unit). In each local council, representatives of the sponsoring organizations meet annually and constitute the base of authority in the council, selecting its officers and transacting other business. Each council sends representatives to form the National Council, which makes basic decisions and selects officers for the overall Boy Scouts of America.

        Last I knew, the LDS church sponsors more units than any other single organization. But they do not “own” it; they are a small minority. If you add together similar organizations as “blocks”, they are not the largest “single block”. Nor are they in any way in effective control. If they had been, we would not have seen the recent change that allows homosexual Scouts (although not leaders). Mormons plus Pentecostals plus Catholics must be a minority on the National Council, at least in relationship to this issue, or it would not have passed.

        So yes, they have some influence on the BSA, but nothing like what you are implying.

        Brother, please avoid making such bold unjustified statements. “Owned” is a cartoonish overstatement, which you presumably heard from someone who finds their positions distasteful.

    • Rinny

      Obviously this was written before BSA changed their policy on homosexuality. A large reason for the policy, not only to keep the support of those loyal to the program.

      But let’s clarify a couple more things, first the female roles in scouting. Girls ages 14-21 have been involved as members of the boy scouts since the 1960s when the venturing program was first formally established. It was originally a way for older members to explore possible career options with first hand experience and research in the field. That program is the current explorers program and venture crews are now, mostly, considered high adventure units and are also coed for youth 14 and up.

      Official leadership for boy scout troops starts at 18, though they are limited to which leadership positions they can take until they are 21 years old. Which means women of 18 years can (and have) be involved in oa as long as they are registered with a troop (as an adult leader) If they are younger than 21 they are also considered youth in oa, since oa runs as a venturing organisation, thus creating even more opportunities for female participation.

      Complete your research before you report on it.

      -an experienced female scouter

      • Scmorrison

        As Netico Lodge 12’s treasurer and the vice chief of inducitons, female youth are not allwoed within the order of the arrow. Females above the age of 21 are allowed to be in the oa. No female youth are involved within it however, and venturing crew members who are in the OA have to be from a troop originally. I will quote the OA eligibility requirements, and will provide the link.

        The Order of the Arrow
        Scouting’s National Honor Society

        For more than 95 years, the Order of the Arrow (OA) has recognized Scouts and Scouters who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives. This recognition provides encouragement for others to live these ideals as well. Arrowmen are known for maintaining camping traditions and spirit, promoting year-round and long-term resident camping, developing leaders, and providing cheerful service to others. OA service, activities, adventures, and training for youth and adults are models of quality leadership development and programming that enrich, support, and help to extend Scouting to America’s youth.


        The mission of the Order of the Arrow is to fulfill its purpose as an integral part of the Boy Scouts of America through positive youth leadership under the guidance of selected capable adults.


        As Scouting’s National Honor Society, our purpose is to:

        Recognize those who best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law in their daily lives and through that recognition cause others to conduct themselves in a way that warrants similar recognition.

        Promote camping, responsible outdoor adventure, and environmental stewardship as essential components of every Scout’s experience, in the unit, year-round, and in summer camp.

        Develop leaders with the willingness, character, spirit and ability to advance the activities of their units, our Brotherhood, Scouting, and ultimately our nation.

        Crystallize the Scout habit of helpfulness into a life purpose of leadership in cheerful service to others.


        The Order of the Arrow 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 Boy Scouts of America. In 1998, the Order of the Arrow became recognized as Scouting’s National Honor Society when it expanded its reach beyond camping to include a greater focus on leadership development, membership extension, adventurous programming, and broader service to Scouting and the community. Today, its service, activities, adventures, and training for youth and adults, are models of quality leadership development and programming that enrich, support, and help extend Scouting to America’s youth.


        The OA has over 171,000 members in lodges affiliated with more than 290 local BSA councils.


        The Order of the Arrow membership requirements are:

        Unit leader approval. To become eligible for election, a Boy Scout or Varsity Scout must be registered with the Boy Scouts of America and have the approval of his unit leader prior to the election. The unit leader must certify his Scout spirit (i.e., his adherence to the Scout Oath and Law and active participation in unit activities). The unit leader must also certify that the nominee meets all specified requirements at the time of this annual election.

        Youth membership qualifications. All members of, or candidates for membership in, the Order of the Arrow who are under 21 years of age shall be considered youth members or candidates for youth membership, subject to meeting the following requirements:

        Be a registered member of the Boy Scouts of America.

        Hold the First Class rank of the Boy Scouts of America, as a minimum.

        After registration with a troop or team, have experienced 15 days and nights of Boy Scout camping during the two-year period prior to the election. The 15 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.

        Candidates for youth membership shall be elected by other youth members in accordance with policies set forth by the national Order of the Arrow committee.

        And the link:

      • Ben

        If you are under the age of 21, the requirement to join the OA is First Class Rank, 15 days and nights of camping in the past 2 years (one of which consisting of a long term campout of at least 6 nights), and the election by the members of your unit. Sorry, but a female cannot be elected for membership in the Order of the Arrow while 18, 19, or 20 because they could not be First Class Rank. What your lodge is doing is against National Policy. The article is correct, and remember the OA is a subcommittee of the Boy Scouts, not of the other Committees in the grand ‘Boy Scouts of America’ organization.
        – Lodge Chief and Section Vice Chief

    • tim simms

      I’m glad they changed their tune on their ridiculous “Ordeal.” When I was a kid, it was just an excuse for hazing. It was secret because what they were doing was wrong.