Yes, Virginia, it was called the 'Blood Rite'

Many years ago I wrote a pair of articles detailing the links between Freemasonry and Scouting.  The first focused on the ritual similarities between the Order of the Arrow (OA) and Freemasonry -- Freemasonry, Scouting and the Order of the Arrow.  The second, Following Arrows, looked at various Scouting organizations and Scouting honor societies and their links not only to Freemasonry, but various esoteric movements, including Freemasonry and the "neo-Pagan" revival, as well as to religious sects such as Mormonism, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Salvation Army.  Though generally well-received by Scouters and Masons alike, there were some negative reactions as well.  Over the years I have made attempts to fuse the two essays and expand upon them in order to make a more comprehensive book out of them.  In doing so, I took into account the various reactions to these essays.  One thing needing elaboration was a reference I made to the Brotherhood membership of the OA.  Initially known simply as the Second Degree, it also became known as the "Blood Rite" and eventually simply Brotherhood membership.  In a couple of forums some Scouters said quite simply that the degree was never known as the "Blood Rite".
I can accept a difference of opinion.  I cannot accept a categorical denial of fact.  Whether intentional or not, it amounts to calling my chops into question.  This is partially my own fault.  I made a passing reference to a little-known historical factoid without any citations.  At the time, I don't think I had access to any, or I'm certain I would have provided them.  So, to rectify the misunderstanding, let me offer some proof of my initial claim, if only to demonstrate that I'm not merely pulling things out of thin air and presenting them as facts.

From an official OA document entitled History of the OA prepared for the 2006 National Order of the Arrow conference (NOAC) I present the first citation (Boldface added): 
Following the meeting at Camp Morrell, the committees met frequently at the Philadelphia Scout office. Ceremonies were drafted, a constitution was framed and on June 2, 1916 they held a meeting of all members. At this meeting the first Constitution of Wimachtendienk was ratified and elections were held. George Chapman was elected the Order’s first Chief. The constitution also provided for standing committees, insignia (pins then, not patches) and rules for membership. Also at this meeting it was determined that the First Degree (honor) would be held half at camp covering leadership and a second half covering Brotherhood in Philadelphia under the guidance of the membership. These two parts of the First Degree would evolve into induction at camp, an Ordeal to complete the First Degree and eventually a Second Degree – a blood rite of Brotherhood to seal membership into the Order. The equivalent of today’s Vigil Honor was originally the Second Degree and would then become the Third Degree.

Now, the rite was conceived of as a "blood rite" but it's not clear if it was actually referred to as the Blood Rite.  This would come later, as the next citation from the same essay makes clear: 
In June of 1916 a constitution for Wimachtendienk was ratified and it was set forth requirements for membership. It was also determined at that meeting that the First Degree would be split into two parts. The first part to be accomplished at camp in public and the second half to take place privately in Philadelphia with only members of the fraternity present. The public first half at camp was based upon leadership. The private second half was about Brotherhood. This second half would become known as the Second Degree (making the Vigil the Third Degree). It also defined when a member sealed his membership into the fraternity by becoming a true brother in the fraternity. And how does one become a Brother with another? The time honored tradition of fraternities required an actual exchange of blood. Thus the Second Degree also became known as the “Blood Rite”. By exchanging blood you sealed your membership and became a Brother as if actually related to all other Brothers that came before you in the Order. It is the exchange of blood that defines us as a fraternity.

When I took the Brotherhood Degree, the exchange of blood was symbolic and involved marking the hand with a red marker (or was it lipstick?) but it originally involved cutting the candidate's hand or pricking his finger:
The practice of actually taking a knife to the palm of a First Degree or Ordeal Honor member as a requirement to be a part of the Brotherhood was abolished years ago. We do know of examples of lodges that maintained this practice as late as the early 1970’s. It is important to point out that to be a part of the Brotherhood never really relied on blood. As Goodman once said, “It is a thing of the spirit”.

The Second Degree had become known as the Blood Rite by at least 1927.  The degrees were still known as the First, Second and Third Degrees, according to
an original document given to Kittatinny Lodge by Brother Tom Wolfinger at the April 2000 Ordeal Weekend at Hawk Mountain Scout Reservation. We are greatly indebted to Tom for providing the lodge with such a valuable commentary on the early history of the Lodge. The original document was hand-typed on brittle weathering typing paper and had written on the front cover in India ink 'Property of "Stew" Miller'.

The document is pretty basic stuff, just a summary of officers elected and activities held, but the pertinent information for 1927 is simply:
Membership reported this year were 11 new members and 22 to Blood Rite Degree (2nd).
The Stew Miller referred to was elected as a Lodge officer in 1942. 

OK.  So, just to show this wasn't a nickname given by one Lodge to the 2nd Degree, I present a few citations from the official OA website.  The article also indicates that the drawing of blood was originally literal, and not merely symbolic:
Brotherhood Rituals Change
Health risk practices are Discontinued for Brotherhood Members
In 1956, the National OA Committee, after consultation with medical advisers, determined that it was no longer safe to draw and exchange blood between two people in the “Blood-rite” of the Brotherhood Ceremony. 
The ceremony was changed to only “symbolically” draw blood. Many lodges were very slow in changing this practice of actually pricking the thumb or finger (or in some cases the palm with a knife) and mixing blood between two Arrowmen. There are accounts well into the 1960s of the practice continuing...

This change and one other minor edit were made as follows (script difference in the 1956 ceremony):

“…cheerfully suffer…” becomes “…suffer cheerfully…”

“…draw drops of blood… “ Was changed to read “…symbolically draw ‘blood’ so that you may mingle your ‘blood’ ...

source: Accessed 12/12/16

Here's another citation referring to a situation in Chicago in 1921:
Camp Belnap ran the same camp program as the other camps within Owasippe Scout Reservation, except they did not have Order of the Arrow. This was for two reasons. Initially the Grand Lodge would not allow more than one lodge in a camp. But ultimately, the reason Belnap did not have OA was because of the Blood Rite (a ritual exchange of blood between participants) required in the Brotherhood Degree.
 source:  Accessed 12/12/16

So maybe my critics are partially correct.  While the NOAC paper and the "Stew Miller" refer to the degree as the "Blood Rite Degree", the OA history says the "Blood Rite" was part of the degree; it's quite possible that the degree was always officially known as the Second Degree, and that, as the degree's centerpiece, this rite within the degree was used by many Lodges to unofficially refer to the degree itself.  In fact, it seems pretty likely that this is the case; but official or not, it was thus called.

Camp Belnap was a segregated, African-American camp in Chicago.  When OA co-founder Carroll A. Edson became a field executive in Chicago Council, there were five districts and a sixth "division" for African-Americans.  Every black Scouter in Chicago was assigned to this division, no matter where in the Chicago they came from.  When Edson became Scout Executive in 1927 he merged the five Lodges into one, Owasippe Lodge 7.  The existing Lodges became chapters of this new Lodge, and the sixth division became its sixth chapter, Takodah.  In 1932, three Arrowmen from this chapter became the first African-American Brotherhood (Second Degree) members of the OA.  So, while the Grand Lodge used the same excuses Masonic Grand Lodges use to deny recognition to African-American Prince Hall Lodges, e.g., there can only be one Lodge per jurisdiction, Belnap didn't have the OA not due to squeamishness over exchanging blood per se, but due to squeamishness over exchanging blood with African-Americans.  Echoes of Animal Farm:  All Arrowmen were Brothers, but some were more Brothers than others.  Especially if those Brothers were, uh, Brothers.... 

Eventually, segregation in Chicago Council ended and Arrowmen in Takodah Chapter joined chapters like any other Arrowman, based upon where they lived. Another article on the OA history page again refers to the Blood Rite and the issue of race:
On that November night in 1932, Benson, James and Isbell took what was then known as the Blood-rite Degree. The concept was that two people could be “brothers” by exchange of blood. Today we know that for health reasons the exchange of blood is extremely hazardous and strictly prohibited. However, in 1932 the impediment was a social issue regarding the exchange of blood between races, and not the very real health issue. There is no record, which Arrowmen stood next to the Takodah Arrowmen as their hands were cut open with a knife and they clasped the hand of their new brother by their side. What is known is that they sealed their membership, potentially the first to integrate the Order in this unprecedented manner.

source: Accessed 12/12/16

So, the official OA history also acknowledges that the Second Degree was also known as the "Blood-rite Degree."  I think we can conclude that official or not, whether part of the degree or the whole, the whole degree was indeed commonly called the Blood Rite Degree.

As for the segregation, lest anyone throw stones, recall that segregation wasn't outlawed in public education by the Supreme Court until 1954, and the Civil Rights Act ending state and local segregation laws until 1964. The aforementioned 2006 NOAC history mentions this event, referring again to the blood rite and noting that baseball, for example, remained segregated until 1947. The OA recognized interracial Brotherhood -- “the feeling that men should treat one another like brothers", more than 34 years before the Supreme Court rules that laws to the contrary were unconstitutional.

So, I hope my critics will be mollified.  For those who doubted me, mea culpa for not providing better documentation.  Although I find it a quibble, I suppose I can begrudgingly concede that the extent to which the Second Degree was officially called the Blood Rite Degree is not entirely clear.  But is was known by that name, that much is beyond question.  
I think it's clear from the tone in which I've written about the OA that I'm not trying to discredit it.  A lot of people find the OA conflicts with their religious beliefs and are entitled to renounce or warn like-minded folks about what it represents if they feel it necessary.  The OA, Scouting and Freemasonry teach that any man can be a brother, regardless of their religious beliefs or ethnic  background.  Google the OA and you'll find a number of essays decrying the OA as un-Christian, even demonic, in some cases attributing demonic possession to affiliation with the group.  Others accuse the OA of being a Masonic recruiting tool, still others decry Scouting as little more than as a kind of "canned hunt" for pedophiles.  These texts display the very worst tendencies of unfounded conspiracy theory, full of venom and bigotry, laughable if not for the very serious nature of their accusations.  Faced with such attitudes, it's understandable that people are leery when uncomfortable facts come to light about an organization to which they belong, and which were hitherto unknown to them.  But facts is facts.  I'll try to get mine straight, hopefully making for interesting reading.  The OA has changed a lot since it's founding in 1915.  And attitudes have changed.  That it was once segregated, or that it contained ritual elements now unthinkable, don't make it an evil organization, but one in keeping, and evolving, within its historical context.  It's much ballyhooed secrecy is overstated; any parent so desirous can read the "rituals" (now more diplomatically called "ceremonies") and even at the last ceremony in which I performed had parents watching.  (My Lodge, Seminole Lodge 85, was also, to my knowledge, one of the first to have a young woman as a member and go through the Ordeal. Current policy states that women must be 21, but I guess we were breaking the rules!)  I was never hazed or treated with anything but genuine warmth and dignity during my "ordeals", but it would be naive to think there have never been any unfortunate incidents in the hundred years of the OA's existence.  Que será será, hermano, son las cosas de la vida.

The idea of a blood rite to seal one's status as a brother, a "blood brother", is an ancient and venerable tradition; the three degrees were once called the First, Second and Third degrees, and are now known as the Ordeal, Brotherhood and Vigil Honor.  The Second was also known as the "Blood Rite", which is creepy enough for some people, and incredibly, actually involved cutting a kid's hand and having him mingle his blood with that of others, as late as the 70's by some accounts, or the 60's, by others.  Understandable why some people would say that's hogwash.  But it isn't.  It happened.  It's no longer the case.  Now it's simply history.

And finally:  "Boo-yah, biznitches!"






Museum Home Page     Phoenixmasonry Home Page

Copyrighted © 1999 - 2017   Phoenixmasonry, Inc.      The Fine Print