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by Ernest Thompson Seton


When brought into some new group such as the school or club, one is naturally anxious to begin by making a good impression on the others, by showing what one can do, proving what one is made of, and by making clear one's seriousness in asking to be enrolled. So also those who form the group; they wish to know whether the newcomer is made of good stuff, and is likely to be a valuable addition to their number. The result is what we call initiation trials, the testing of the newcomer.

The desire to initiate and be initiated is a very ancient, deep-laid impulse. Whenever one tries to suppress it by regulations, it becomes secret and dangerous. Handled judiciously and under the direction of a competent adult guide, it becomes a powerful force for character building, for inculcating self-control.

In Woodcraft we carefully select for these try-outs a test to demonstrate the character and ability of the newcomer, and the initiation becomes a real proof of fortitude, so that the new boy is as keen to face the trial, as the Tribe he would enter is to give it.

The Initiation Trials

The trial is given to the candidate when his name is proposed for membership -- that is, posted on the Totem pole where it remains for several suns. In camp a shorter time may be allowed at the discretion of the leaders. It should be something bearing on the candidate's besetting sin. It should be incapable of causing injury. It should be approved by the Council. The following have been used

1. Silence. Keep absolute silence for six hours during the daytime in camp, while freely mixing with the life of the camp. In the city keep silence from after school till bedtime.

2. Keep good-natured. Keep absolutely unruffled, for one day of twelve hours, giving a smiling answer to all.

3. Exact Obedience. For one week give prompt, smiling obedience to parents, teachers, and those who have authority over you. This must be certified to by those in question.

4. Make a useful woodcraft article, such as a basket, a bench, a bed, a bow, a set of fire-sticks, etc.

5. Sleep out, without a built roof overhead, for seven nights consecutively, or 30, not consecutively (Sleeping porch allowed by special permission of Council).

6. Business Test. Bring to a given place at a given time two, or more, willow rods exactly alike, straight peeled and smooth, of a stated length. If a minute late, or a fraction of an inch wrong, or a trifle different, it is a failure.

7. Give up all such indulgences as chocolate, candies, ice creams, sodas, etc., for two weeks.

8. Lone Camp. Go forth alone into the woods at sunset, out of sight and sound of camp, or human habitation. Take blankets, axe and matches, etc., and make yourself comfortable overnight, not returning till sunrise.

Any trial of self-control or attainment approved by the Guide may be used, if sufficient to equal the above, but not likely to be dangerous under any circumstances.

See Also:

Indian Sign Initiation

Dan Beard's Initiation

Troop Investiture Ceremonies

African Eengonyama Campfire Ceremony 

The Birch Bark Roll






Additional Information:

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.