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The Order of the Arrow

As a Latter-day Saint, I’ve been taught all my life that you don’t refuse an opportunity to serve. Consequently, I’ve held many teaching and leadership positions in the Church throughout my life, and I anticipate several more before I’m through. Some of them have been more fun than others, and some of highlighted my strengths, while others have demonstrated just how much I have to learn.

Yet there’s only one assignment that would cause me to run screaming into the night:

Scoutmaster.

Yikes. I shudder just thinking about it.

Quite frankly, I loathe Scouting. Every traumatic experience of my childhood can somehow be traced back to the Boy Scouts of America. And since Scouting is the official boy’s youth program for the LDS Church, all three of my sons will likely be wearing those tacky khaki shirts and learning the Scout Law. And, sooner or later, someone’s going to ask me to get involved in their “Be Prepared” preparation. At which point I will vomit.

From whence cometh my Scoutaphobia? It wasn’t just the kid who put a dead fish in my tent at scout camp, which invited a colony of ants to take up residence in my sleeping bag. Or the time I was sent from campsite to campsite in search of bear repellent, which doesn’t exist. Or the Patrol Leader who enforced discipline by clocking me in the jaw. All of these helped, certainly, but I think it was the Order of the Arrow that put me over the top.

The Order of the Arrow is a secret society within Scouting, one with secrets so secret that I can never reveal them, mainly because I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember is the three-day nightmare induction ceremony which was called, appropriately, The Ordeal.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The Ordeal begins at a Scouting Camporee, at the “tap-out.” That’s where some scrawny kid with a loincloth and a faux Indian headdress hit me on the shoulder with a tomahawk while I was sitting around a campfire. At that point, I became a “candidate” for the Order of the Arrow, and I was under a vow of silence until I performed an act of service for my parents the next day. So, the next morning, I dutifully, silently emptied the dishwasher. After that, the vow was lifted, and I could talk freely about how much the previous night sucked.

So a few weeks after the “tap-out,” I headed off to Camp Whitsett, a scout camp up in the hinterlands of nowhere, where I was put back under a vow of silence and told to go sleep in the woods, alone. No tent. No foam cushion. No pillow. Just me, a sleeping bag, and plenty of rocks. In the middle of the night, my ears began to freeze, and I buried my head inside the sleeping bag, which was covered with ice the next morning when I awoke.

That’s when the party began.

For breakfast, I was given a plastic Dixie cup, a raw egg, and a match. I think I succeeded in boiling the egg somehow, but I can’t remember being too happy about it. Lunch was half a slice of white bread with half a piece of baloney. Dinner was a carrot and a gumdrop. The intervening hours were spent in slave labor clearing brush and digging ditches, all in complete silence, because of the stupid silence vow, which I broke repeatedly. Our only respite came in the form of a one-hour pseudo-therapy session where the vow was temporarily lifted and we could confess our sins to grown men in Scout uniforms, and they proceeded to break beads on our little Order of the Arrow badges for each of our transgressions. I only got one of my beads broken, I think. Perhaps I should have broken more. Maybe I would have felt better. I certainly was in the perfect mood for breaking things.

After we’d finished our carrots and our gumdrops, we were led around by ropes in total darkness, still under the vow of silence, only now, we were being forced to keep our eyes closed. Scout Nazi enforcement squads walked up and down the line and whacked you in the back of the head if you tried to peek. After what seemed like an hour, I was allowed to open my eyes to see some weird, creepy Indian ceremony in front of a campfire, which would last a couple of minutes or so, and then you were led to the next station, where you did the same thing. It’s here that I think the Order’s deepest secrets were revealed. I’m sure they were very important. I had to go the bathroom.

I realize I’m being somewhat negative here, and that’s unfortunate. There were the good times, too. It was in Scouting where I learned how to ignite my farts with a Bic lighter without singeing my anus. I also learned the value of teamwork when my fellow Scouts and I would urinate together on campfires to put them out. I learned the meaning of the word “smegma.”

What a wonderful Scoutmaster I will make.

Bourne Free
Four Signs and Seven Years Ago

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56 Comments

  1. I remember at camp one guy found a road-kill woodchuck and tried to “skin” it. It was more a disgusting dissection than a skinning.Ah the bug bites, bad food, rain, hazing and filthy latrines (one kid lost $20 down it – there it sat, just floating on the top of the s***.). Overall it was a fun experience.

  2. Besides functioning as an outlet for practicing advanced evacuation techniques, scouting was also where most of us learned to play 5 card draw poker for Jolly Ranchers and Starbursts. Though, since we had no real knowledge of the whole sequence of betting and calling, I’m pretty sure I was hosed regularly.As many of us have lovingly proclaimed, “I got my mother’s Eagle Scout!”

  3. Yeah, but you actually got yours. My mother swore that if I didn’t get my Eagle, I would regret it for the rest of my life. The rest of my life has yet to begin.

  4. I’m sure this will be a story for which your spirit family will comfort you in the next life. Geez, don’t get your holy underwear in a bunch.

  5. … or you could just pretend to be a man and quit your bitching, you little girl! How about you come out and try the U.S. Army Special Forces selection, sally!

  6. wow I really think that you got your underware in a twist and you need to pick it out. If you don’t like it than don’t talk about it. Everything in the ordeal has a pourpose and it really soulds like your just a wuss cause if you wine about ants in your sleeping try going to philmont but you wouldn’t do that because once again you are a wuss

  7. Hey thanks a lot you jerk. I’m about to go on my ordeal, and you got me all freaked out.

    Also, i’ll bet you never made it to Eagle. (am i right?)

  8. you’re an idiot! The ordeal is a bad part of the OA introduction but it’s to prove you’re ready to be part of the organization. Although i see you obviously failed. It’s an honor to get in and you should treat it as such.

  9. On the rare occasion that LDS run a proper Scout Troop (I’ve seen it only once and helped make it so) it can be a great thing. I was appointed to a troop committee, but I couldn’t find the rest of the committee, so I started attending weekly with the troop. I educated myself from official BSA documents and eventually was properly trained. By then I suppose I had been contaminated by ideas of choice, election, and self-selected determination — I’m also retired military. You cannot force any idea into a person and way too many people don’t grasp the “volunteer” aspect of Scouting. Leaders and Scouts need to subscribe emotionally and physically to it. I “get it” what the program is about and the short answer is to take a teenage boy that will probably spend the rest of his life in front of an Xbox and expose him to many ideas that he does not know exist.

    That is what happened to me. At 14, I bailed out on Scouting, it was horrible. The troop was filled mostly with boys that did not want to be there. Volunteer is a word not usually found in LDS units. Elections are also verboten. But at 17, my road to geekdom was interrupted by going on a hike and discovering that not only was I good at navigation, I enjoyed being outdoors. Who would have thunk it. At 17 I hiked about 100 miles across the High Sierra with my best friend, the only two Explorers out of 17 that did anything consequential.

    • Good comments. My twin boys are now Boy Scouts, and they have great leaders and are enjoying every minute of it. I’m not trying to singlehandedly destroy the BSA or the Order of the Arrow. But my own experience in both was marred by bullying and hazing, and I couldn’t get out of it fast enough.

      • Times have changed since we were scouts. There is no more tap out because of incidents that you describe. The scant food still is part of the Ordeal but we now use cooked eggs. As for the Slave labor, sorry you feel that way, as I explained this past weekend to a group of candidates and arrowmen that we were preparing our camp which you might now, Camp Josepho, for El Niño, in addition we were removing an invasive plant to help restore the plant community. As for projects at Camp Whitsett, we have helped set-up the camp for the summer.

      • I’m glad you are giving Scouting a second go with your own boys. I as a youth was never in the OA because I wasn’t popular enough to get elected. I however also believe I am the only one in my Troop that is still involved in Scouting. Scouting taught me many great values that I would not have received traditionally. It also opened opportunities that I would not have had growing up in a very poor family. Due to values I learned such as goal setting, hard work, self motivated learning, and perseverance I have graduated from college and advancing my degree. I have become a manager and benefit to my employer and volunteer not only for the BSA but my Church as well. These are all great traits that any parent would want their children to obtain.

        I will be serving as one of those guides this weekend in our Lodge’s Ordeal. My first Ordeal, granted as an adult, was an enlightening experience where I reflected on our own purpose in our communities, the meaning of self sacrifice, God’s plan and purpose, and stewardship of the gift of nature that surrounded me that weekend. Not typical thought of any random 14 year old. Now granted the ordeal wasn’t perfect either. I set up my sleeping area next to a decaying rabbit that I smelt all night and kept moving in the dark to try to get away from to awake in the morning with it only mear feet from my face. Our food consisted of 4 crackers and a slice of “cheese.” As an adult candidate our tasks where much more difficult than the youth but in the end much more beneficial to the camp! Over all it was a great experience though. Give it another try, look up your local lodge, pay your dues, and maybe look into becoming an active supporting adult.

        Who knows, maybe you are a Scoutmaster yet…..

    • Who’s sadder – the pathetic waste of oxygen, or the pathetic waste of oxygen who comments on the pathetic waste of oxygen’s blog?

  10. I didn’t care for scouting as a kid. I understood that my parents wanted me to earn my Eagle award. I hurried and earned it shortly before my 14th birthday and asked if that was enough for them to let me quit. It was. (To be clear, they didn’t make that deal in advance–they probably would have let me quit earlier if I had just asked. They weren’t evil.)

    Imagine my shock when I was asked to serve as a scoutmaster (in an LDS unit) a few years ago. I told them it wasn’t really my thing, but I’d do what I could.

    Now that I’ve been doing it a few years, I can echo a few of the previous comments. The BSA program is great–it’s just that so few LDS troops implement it. I’m doing my best to make it work here. It’s not perfect, but I like to hope these boys are enjoying it more than I did.

    What I would really like is to run a PTO sponsored troop or something and implement the full scouting program, using the patrol method and everything else. There’s so much more there than LDS units use.

  11. “You got your Eagle at 14?”

    I conduct Eagle boards of review, about 45 per year. 14 year old eagles are uncommon but each that I have seen have been very impressive. I do not consider it possible to compel a 14 year old boy to become an Eagle; my son stopped at 3 merit badges and that was the end of that for him.

    You cannot hang “drivers license” over his head yet and he’s barely reached puberty so girls aren’t yet that much of a distraction. If they don’t get it by 14 I probably won’t see them again until they are 17, a few come at 15 since they won’t get a driver’s license otherwise. I can usually tell when they are being coerced into it.

    “Who are all these EAGLE SCOUT mothers?”

    Susan, Lisa, about 15 variations of Brittney (Br{i,y}t[t][{a,e}]n[n]{ie,ee,ey}).

    “I don’t personally give a crap!”

    Well there you go. What a relief. I contemplated the minor burden of going through eagle applications digging up names. Those mothers DO deserve considerable honor and recognition.

    “I just want my 5 kids to be NICE people who contribute positively to society.”

    Good. That’s the purpose of Scouting.

    • Thank you, Michael! I am the mother of a 14 yo Eagle Scout. Rare is their a mother of an Eagle Scout that didn’t immerse herself in the program and even attend a Round Table or two trying to understand the program – most times better than the Scoutmaster – in an attempt to guide their son through the program. I have a 13 yo looking for a project now who is also going to his Ordeal next month. They have a Webelo brother that can hardly wait to start earning badges. My boys usually spend an hour each Sunday goal planning. That’s key! As their mother it’s my job to be informed enough to help them understand the opportunities all around them that can help them meet their goals – if they want it. Parents cannot sit back and expect the Scoumaster to do it all for them. The boys don’t understand the significance Eagle will have long term – parents do – therefore it’s the parents job to make sure it’s a positive experience. Parents need to listen as to why a Scouts not having fun and talk to the leaders. What’s fun for some boys is horrifying for others. The leaders need to know so they can help the boys find their balance. My 14 yo doesn’t care for horseplay – his troop was careful with him. My 13 yo is likely the ring leader of such pranks. His leaders have been great at helping him to know when, where, and with whom it’s okay. StallionCornell seems to have missed his opportunities for voicing his problems during Board of Reviews (where leaders are supposed to be checking to see if they are having fun and not feeling tortured) – or his own parents didn’t listen to him. Unfortunate. Scouting can be wonderful if parents and leaders take the boys ‘whining’ seriously – helping the boy to ‘navigate’ life … sticking to it!

  12. you are being very negative, you just cant do the work with little food, I just got elected into theOA and you are a stupid pansy

    • Little purple pansies, touched with yellow gold,
      Growing in one corner of the garden old;
      We are very tiny but must try, try, try
      Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

      • Dear Sir….my son is almost 27 (end of July). He got his Eagle just before he turned 15..Order of the Arrow spring of 2001, just before he turned 14….We have been having a discussion today about how he can’t remember all of the Order of the Arrow “crap”, but how he does remember some really disgusting things….and a lot of things I can’t post here, but would like to discuss with you. He seemed VERY uncomfortable asking me about “that time” and honestly….I remember EVERYTHING about my only child’s life, but I am ALSO having a hard time remembering this. If you would be so kind as to write me at my personal email, I would greatly appreciate it. From what he told me, it made me try and find ANYONE that may have experienced “disgusting, but can’t remember all of it”…..EVERYTHING you wrote he said to me before I found your blog. He read what you wrote…and it’s verbatim what he had asked me/said to me. I am SICK to my stomach. Please, if you would be so kind, write me at goddess_3@msn.com I await your reply…Blessings, Rita

  13. I didn’t know about palms yet. And the Oa I totally forgot about it’s existence. A Scout’s father who is in my troop is in the Brotherhood of the Order of the Arrow. He once told us that there were secrets he couldn’t tell about the organization. He said he would have to “kill us” BUT as a JOKE. And ever since I was so curious to know more about it. It sounds crazy but doable.

  14. Hi, right now I am a boy scout in the Order in the Arrow ( O.A. ), actually I am one of those scouts that goes around dressed like an Indian…
    I have practiced days and days, countless hours to give candidates for the O.A. a meaningful ceremony that can show them the purpose for the O.A. , to promote camping and service, I cant speak for every lodge or district, but the policies described in the above story are not tolerated in my area and are considered wrong. The traditions we have may seem primitive, but I firmly believe that if the small amount of service you had to complete there was a problem with that, maybe you shouldn’t have been elected into the O.A. , a brotherhood of cheerful service.

  15. Hey, so even as this is old, it is false. I found this today, and just yesterday, I was a guide for the Ordeal candidates. There was no “beatings” and no tomahawks on their shoulders. All you’re trying to accomplish is creating a rant against BSA since you weren’t physically and/or mentally able to complete your ordeal. The Order of the Arrow is full of scouts that complete ‘irksome tasks while having a smile on their face’, hence why we are a brotherhood of cheerful service.

    • Talk about false. Where on earth did I mention “beatings?” I was ceremoniously tapped with a tomahawk. At the “tap out.” It was not violent or painful, nor did I say it was.

      Putting “beatings” in quotes suggests I used that word. I didn’t. I did say I was whacked in the back of the head when I opened my eyes, because I was. Keep in mind this was over thirty years ago – such things would likely prompt lawsuits these days. Suing over such whacks would be a gross overreaction, IMO – As it was, it was obnoxious and unpleasant, but it was not approaching a level of genuine or scarring physical abuse.

      I also completed my ordeal, both physically and mentally. I just thought it sucked.

  16. You must have been in an awful troop, if you had a dead fish put in your tent and got punched by a patrol leader. My troop is mainly about helping the community, doing things such as community service, cleaning the troop’s highway, or cleaning the church that we meet at to name a few things.

    • “You must have been in an awful troop, if you had a dead fish put in your tent and got punched by a patrol leader”

      Yeah, that was kind of my whole point.

      • But what did your parents say? Parents – these days anyway – can stop such. We’re your parents supportive of this hazing that horrified you?

  17. I’m in the OA, and I had a very different experience than the one you had. I’m not going to tell you about how I think you are a mislead idiot (suprised?). But I must ask you: when did you go through your ordeal? I ask because this sounds very similar to how those who did their ordeal even just 10 or 20 years ago describe it, not like someone who has done there ordeal more recently. The OA has had a lot of policy changes recently along with the BSA in an attempt at idiot-proofing (if such a thing exists, I have yet to see), and the type of experience you described would now be considered a serious hazing.

    • I went through the ordeal over thirty years ago. (I’m quite old.)

      Glad to know things have changed, but your rudeness leads me to believe that the self-righteous smugness of the O of A members has not.

      • My rudeness? Do you mean the mislead idiot line, because that was sarcasm. I was saying I don’t think that, and it must have come off the wrong way. My apologies.

          • Anyway, things have changed a lot, but what will never change is the basic fact the Order of the Arrow is essentially a boy scout fraternity that traces its roots to the Freemasons. The OA, simply put, is an organization with good intentions but questionable and controversial practices. Many people like this, but for others the OA is not for them, and they see obvious flaws. I appreciate the fact that you are willing to share your experiences and opinions as one of those who dislikes the OA. I can see that you are not spewing hatred all over a web page, rather, you are trying to bring light to the lesser-known side of an organization and make an interesting blog. Keep it up, because when someone like myself with a leadership position in the Order of the Arrow sees this, they can try to address the problems in their own lodge and ensure that scouts and scouters going through their ordeal don’t share a similar experience to the one you had. If the OA is to be Scouting’s national honor society, than we should be sure to honor those elected and ensure they continue the good practices that led them to us, not haze and make them feel punished.

            -Hunter D.

  18. If Scouting was so bad then why let your boys join?
    It must mean somehow a weak minded person fathered 2 young men.
    Or do they look like the milk man?
    They would be better off without all of the negativity from you.
    Former scout and father of a scout entering into the O.A. next month and on his way to Eagle.
    I only support what he wants and do not want him to do these things for me but himself.
    I am glad apparently you got something good out of scouting, just think where you may be without it.
    Once a Scout always a Scout.
    Be well

    • Father of three young men, actually. (And two non-scouting young women.) One is a Webelo. And I’m his Webelos leader.

      Honestly, I don’t understand you at all. Do you think insulting is going to make me appreciate the Boy Scouts? Because, really, that’s just stupid. If that’s you strategy to deal with those who had lousy scouting experiences, then the BSA needs brighter ambassadors than you.

      • I agree with Anonymous Commenter – as the parent of a 13 yo on his way to his own Ordeal I appreciate the article and can better prepare him for what he may of may not be in for. I’m sorry your experience was so awful. I do think it will actually make you a great Scoutmaster. Embrace the calling should it come your way.

  19. Thank you, Michael! I am the mother of a 14 yo Eagle Scout. Rare is their a mother of an Eagle Scout that didn’t immerse herself in the program and even attend a Round Table or two trying to understand the program – most times better than the Scoutmaster – in an attempt to guide their son through the program. I have a 13 yo looking for a project now who is also going to his Ordeal next month. They have a Webelo brother that can hardly wait to start earning badges. My boys usually spend an hour each Sunday goal planning. That’s key! As their mother it’s my job to be informed enough to help them understand the opportunities all around them that can help them meet their goals – if they want it. Parents cannot sit back and expect the Scoumaster to do it all for them. The boys don’t understand the significance Eagle will have long term – parents do – therefore it’s the parents job to make sure it’s a positive experience. Parents need to listen as to why a Scouts not having fun and talk to the leaders. What’s fun for some boys is horrifying for others. The leaders need to know so they can help the boys find their balance. My 14 yo doesn’t care for horseplay – his troop was careful with him. My 13 yo is likely the ring leader of such pranks. His leaders have been great at helping him to know when, where, and with whom it’s okay. StallionCornell seems to have missed his opportunities for voicing his problems during Board of Reviews (where leaders are supposed to be checking to see if they are having fun and not feeling tortured) – or his own parents didn’t listen to him. Unfortunate. Scouting can be wonderful if parents and leaders take the boys ‘whining’ seriously – helping the boy to ‘navigate’ life … sticking to it!

  20. LOL!!! His name was Bendo! He could breath through is ass (LOL). He would huff and puff and put a lighter to his ass. Oha the fun times. I think I was gay before getting into the Scouts this does not matter. I’m sorry for the younger guys that did not want things to happen to them. At the time I did not know better. The Scout Masters were not aware at what went on at some times. The pease pipe was not full of tobacco but pot. We got stoned around the campfire and led back to a tent into a sleeping bag. Do I need to say more.

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