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Concept and Components of Fraternity Rituals

The source of ritual material for fraternities (and sororities) have been:

  1. Freemasonry.
  2. Other adult lodge groups (many modeled on Masonry) such as Knights of Pythias, Knights of Columbus, Order of Odd Fellows, International Order of Foresters, Knights of Malta, Templars, etc.
  3. Religious books and liturgies such as wedding, funeral, and worship services, as well as the Bible, Torah, and Koran.
  4. Eventually, other Greek organizations, especially men assisting women in developing rituals as sororities evolve, but also men of one fraternity assisting men starting new fraternities.
  5. Historical rituals of early civilizations (Mithra/the Orient, Greece/Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries, Africa/Egypt)

Characteristically, there are five basic ritual tenets:

  1. Character (honor, leadership, morality, truth, loyalty)
  2. Scholarship (academics, intellectual development, pursuit of knowledge)
  3. Fellowship (brotherhood/sisterhood, group unity, shared values, brotherhood of man)
  4. Service (to those less fortunate, fellow man, a particular profession)
  5. Religion (respect for a higher authority, life after death, sometimes a particular denomination's views)

Each ritual ceremony uses some or all of these precepts as part of the theme.

The common components of rituals include:

bulletPreparation of the candidates and a procedure for admitting the neophyte into the initiation room. Usually this consists of dressing the neophyte in a robe, often blindfolding them. The neophyte is lead to a door where there are knocks on t he door and an exchange of dialogue, and sometimes an exchange of signs, grips, or passwords that gain the neophyte and conductor admittance.
bulletThe administration of an initiation oath. In most groups, the chapter president administers the oath. The neophytes are often standing, but may be kneeling, and may have their right hand raised. Usually short phrases are recited to the neophyte(s) who then repeat the phrases. In some, the oath is a series of questions that require "I will" or "I do" responses. Some of the items included in the oath may be:
bulletto keep the secrets of the fraternity
bulletto promote the interests of the fraternity
bulletto obey orders from superiors to strive
bulletto improve himself in the areas of the precepts of the fraternity
bulletto not join any other college social fraternity
bulletto promote the interests of the host institution

Many oaths end with the expression referring to God, ie. "so help me God".

bulletTeaching of the secrets and symbols of the fraternity. These might include the passwords, motto, recognition signs, grip, symbolism in the coat of arms, significance of titles of officers, interpretation of the fraternity flag, flower, whistle, call, song, etc.
bulletInvestiture of the badge/pin. Usually done by the big brother/sponsor or president, occasionally by another officer.
bulletCharge of responsibility. Often a charge of the responsibilities of a member is read to the new initiate(s). This is sometimes done by the president or an alumnus. Some charges are written, some are extemporaneous. Usually it is read to the new members as a group. These charges may include encouraging the initiate to fulfill the ideals and maintain the standards of the fraternity, complete his college education to the best of his ability, to pursue lifelong learning, strive for unity, or to serve the fraternity in the future.
bulletPrayer. Many fraternities make use of a prayer at some point in the ritual. Usually the chaplain stands and offers the prayer. The prayers often are to an omnipotent deity, asking for loyalty from brothers, and/or blessings on the fraternity and/or neophytes.

These are the most common elements in a fraternity initiation ritual. If you study the history and background of a fraternity, the background of the founders, consider the era of the founding and any special purposes behind the group's foundling, you can probably surmise the elements they are most likely to use.

Other elements found to be used in rituals but less common include:

bulletEnrollment or official registration of the neophyte during initiation - signifies that the neophyte is officially full member in good standing.
bulletCircle ceremony - symbolized the acceptance of the neophyte into the fraternity. Also symbolized unity and harmony among the members.
bulletSymbolical journey - presented to the neophyte, through the use of personification and sound and sight effects, the ideals and virtues of the fraternity.
bullet"Examination" or testing of  the neophyte - emphasized the fundamental principles of the fraternity, determined whether the neophyte was prepared for membership into the fraternity, and impressed upon the neophyte the necessity of guarding the secrets of the fraternity.
bulletPurification rite - served the purpose of symbolically cleansing the neophyte of a former, impure life.
bulletAssurance of good faith - statements made by the members during the initiation ceremony to the neophyte that nothing harmful would occur to him during the formal initiation ceremony.
bulletReading of the constitution - emphasized appropriate behavior to the neophyte.
bulletMeditation by the neophyte - provided neophyte with the opportunity to reflect upon the step he was taking by being admitted into the fraternity.
bulletDeath and resurrection dramatization - symbolically represented the giving up of a hopeless, selfish, solitary life and replacing it with a life full of hope, light, and fraternal love.
bulletSilent dinner - signified the beginning of the formal initiation ceremony and mentally prepared the neophyte for the initiation ceremony.
bulletMember rededication - members reaffirming their allegiance to other members and the ideals of the fraternity.
bulletTest/examination - to make sure the neophyte was prepared to be admitted into the fraternity.

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Last Updated: 2008-03-14 18:23
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