The tenacity with which students and alumni hold on to the secrecy of our fraternity and sorority rituals is admirable. Truly admirable – and mostly successful.
There is a simple reason to keep ritual a secret: We’ve all agreed to do so in joining our organizations (presumably). And yet it is hard to imagine that a secret ritual does much to help the public understand us and what we often suggest is the key ingredient to making fraternities both different and relevant.
From our rituals we pull the guidelines of membership for our organizations, and the ceremonies often reflect the unique elements of our founding, whether it was based on that of another fraternity or something completely unique.
Over time, fraternities have merged and combined or adopted another ritual. Rituals have been leaked and occasionally rewritten due to the leak. Some organizations have public rituals, and are particularly successful at inspiring a massive, often profitable, movement.
So today we ask: What would you do if your ritual were leaked to the public?
Would you change your ritual? Does that mean that you alter your organization’s history and what it stands for?
Would you alter the ceremonies to be different than they were at the time of the leak? Would that simply be a cosmetic adjustment to what would be known to all?
Would your organization break down into chaos, students and alumni without any guiding force or principles to act on? Would your members willingly violate the terms of your membership knowing that your secret has been let out? Would chapter houses burn to the ground in a massive, hedonistic tribute to the devil?
The United States is unique in many ways, and literacy has truly created a diverse and talented nation. The earliest public schooling system was that of Massachusetts, where the Protestants believed that literacy was essential in that an individual should interpret the word of God for himself or herself (In reality it was still an extremely rigid society which effectively shaped the Northeast’s and much of the rest of the country’s policies, including nationalized public education).
This built upon an information boon following the creation of the printing press and the publication of The Holy Bible in languages other than Latin, which sowed many divisions within Christianity, but ultimately strengthened the religion and created the foundation for the Western world we know today in which enlightenment and literacy (education) are prized and sought out by all.
Schools opened throughout the U.S. and taught literacy in the context of their own educational pursuits, be they religious, secular or social. . . yes, social.
Because fraternities too, as we know them in America, were more often than not established as literary and social organizations. Members would help one another study and share their academic achievements and would also provide the social comfort of friendship through the rigorous experience that was college. Surprise!
Let’s get back to the topic of ritual and wrap this up.
A member of my chapter handed down to me a USB drive with the rituals of 3 other fraternities. I hadn’t much an interest in reading them, and before I graduated I decided that it would be inappropriate to pass it on. Who is to say that someone wouldn’t retaliate and reveal my organization’s secrets? (After all, our house was entered and many of our possessions were stolen one summer by some fraternity men with a university-provided key. . .)
I deleted the rituals and used the thumb drive for my senior research project instead. (Sorry bro!)
What would we have done; however, if our ritual were revealed? Would Delta Sigma Phi be no more? Would it be less than any other fraternity?
Delta Upsilon has a public ritual, and it seems to work just fine. Plus, a public ritual does not mean an organization cannot have secrets between its members.
A public ritual does not necessarily mean that a handshake, a knock, a song, a formation, a phrase or a symbol must be revealed for all to know. I don’t advise or ask that you make your ritual public, but I do ask that when faced with the prospect, or if the question comes up at your Fraternity/Sorority convention/conclave/whatever, that you distinguish the importance of secrets versus secret ceremonies.
Would you give up everything you are because a ceremony was revealed to the public? Would you halt decades or centuries of tradition simply because others knew about it?
Are your ceremonies important because they are secret or because generation after generation of members partook in those same ceremonies as a part of your fraternity?
The internet is unlike any tool to distribute information before it, and we shouldn’t bear the burden of keeping so much written information secret – after all, it’s probably a contributing factor to much of what we general members dislike about our fraternities/sororities.