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):
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:
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 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
source: http://kittatinny5.org/history/minsi-lodge-5-hstory/ Accessed 12/12/16
The document is pretty basic stuff, just a summary of officers elected and activities held, but the pertinent information for 1927 is simply:
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:
http://history.oa-bsa.org/node/3255 Accessed 12/12/16
Here's another citation referring to a situation in Chicago in 1921:
source: http://history.oa-bsa.org/node/3135 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:
http://history.oa-bsa.org/node/3134 Accessed 12/12/16
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!"
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