The Order of the Arrow (OA) is most commonly known as the National Honor Society of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). A more clear definition would be that the society was created to honor Scouts that best exemplify the Scout Oath and Law. It uses American Indian-styled traditions and ceremonies to bestow recognition on Scouts selected by their peers as best exemplifying the ideals of Scouting. The society was created by E. Urner Goodman, with the assistance of Carroll A. Edson, in 1915 as a means of reinforcing the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. The goal was to establish these as lifelong guidelines, and to encourage continued participation in Scouting and camping. Influenced in part by camp traditions, and Indian folklore, the OA uses “safeguarded” symbols, handshakes, and ceremonies to impart a sense of community.
After being elected or nominated, candidates may participate in a call-out ceremony to recognize those Scouts and Scouters that were selected before they attend their Ordeal. The call-out ceremony may be performed at summer camp, a camporee, a call-out weekend or at a unit meeting. Candidates subsequently participate in an Ordeal, intended to emphasize service and selflessness. During the induction, “candidates maintain complete silence, receive small amounts of food, work on camp improvement projects, and are required to sleep alone, apart from other campers, which teaches significant values.” If they succeed in their ordeal the candidates are then welcomed as Ordeal members in a formal Ordeal Ceremony.
Ordeal members are entitled to all the same rights and privileges of membership in the Order as Brotherhood and Vigil Honor members—there are no ranks within the Order. However, moving on to Brotherhood membership offers an opportunity to reaffirm one’s commitment to the Order. Arrowmen may “seal” their membership after ten months by demonstrating their knowledge of the traditions and obligations of the OA. They then participate in an induction ceremony and become Brotherhood members.
While the Ordeal consists primarily of physical impressions, “the Brotherhood ceremony is one of deeper and quieter mental impressions.”
The Vigil Honor is a recognition given to Arrowmen for distinguished contributions beyond the immediate responsibilities of their position or office to their lodge, the Order of the Arrow, Scouting, or their Scout Camp. The Vigil Honor may be conferred upon Arrowmen who have completed a minimum of two years as a Brotherhood member and have performed exceptional service above and beyond their immediate responsibilities through leadership, exemplary efforts, and dedication. However, under no circumstances should tenure in Scouting or the Order of the Arrow be considered as reason enough for a Vigil Honor recommendation. Selection is annual and is limited to one person for every 50 members of the lodge, and members of the Order can be inducted into the Vigil Honor only with the written approval of the national Order of the Arrow committee.
As a part of the Vigil Honor induction, each new Vigil Honor member is given a Vigil Honor name in the language of the Lenni Lenape, on whom the traditions and ceremonies of the Order are based. An English translation of the Vigil Honor name is also provided, and the name often represents a characteristic of the individual.