Five Suggestions To Modernize Our Handling Of Fraternity Secrets & Rituals

posted in: Nik Koulogeoge | 0

The newest podcast from Greek Life Today features the author behind a photo book featuring the inside of a pre-social media fraternity house. There is not much available on the internet, but what I can see and what I heard in Jon’s conversation with the author (Andrew Moisey. Seriously, check out that episode & podcast. High quality Greek Life media.) captivated me.

Jon asks at the end of the episode what Moisey believes fraternities and sororities can do to address their current challenges. One of the things Andrew suggests is “end the secrecy.” The reasons he offers are not too different than what I once argued in a post about the effect of secret-keeping on our ability to discuss non-secret things within our organizations – let alone with the public. [1]

Conventions 2011, 2013 & 2015

No matter my position on the fraternity staff, I chose to do the most menial work at our Convention. I once refused to find a new staff member to fetch coffee for a national officer and demanded that I be sent to get the coffee – I always make points with dramatic flair. . . shocker.

In any case – I would often serve as the door guard prior to our assembly meetings. Attendees and delegates would be required to perform the secret handshake and say the secret password to enter into the room. Few if any of the 500+ attendees at any Convention were aware of the grip or the password. Many forgot (or never knew) both of them. We would send dozens of men (young and old alike) to the end of the line to learn from a friend.

I believe the grip and password is now reintroduced at delegate training sessions due to the fact that the men who were literally voting on legislation that would change our ritual seemed to know nothing of it.

It should go without saying that one could assume that many of those men would scoff at the idea of publicizing a ritual they remember little to nothing of, but such is the case of fraternity.

100% Beeswax candles are a fun group craft project (you can buy kits online), they’re beautiful, and they smell great.

Instead of going full crazy and suggesting that our ritual be made public I am offering some suggestions to my Fraternity’s leadership and chapters of my fraternity to reduce the mystery (and the resulting public anxiety/resentment) around our fraternity. It may also help more members and the general public understand what we are about – and how beautiful it all is.

I would assume that these ideas can apply to any fraternity or sorority. . . but I don’t know your secrets. 

“We’re all slowly going mad, from poverty and anxiety and mystery.”

Robert Anton-Wilson

Ritual In Meetings. All Of The Time.

Unless your national policy strictly forbids it, incorporate ritual into all of your chapter events and meetings. It doesn’t matter if you are dressed up: address the officers by their proper titles, use the proper hand signals to be called upon, sit in the proper formation, etc.

Thousands of hotel staff across the country have seen the shape that Delta Sigs sit in. . . and it doesn’t matter because none of them know why. These symbolic traditions make meetings more enjoyable and increase the morale and commitment of members. [2]

When I became a Director at our central office we incorporated Ritual into our team meetings and local rituals (like a weekly pass the gavel) into our training process.

While Chapter President I set up Chapter to sit in formation and use the proper signals before our chapter room was fitted with curtains because we had gone more than a year without a proper chapter meeting. Guess what? The secret didn’t get out. The reason is simple: People don’t actually care.

Publish “Exoteric” Rituals Online & In New Member Manuals

Some of our rituals are technically open to the public. These include a housing dedication ceremony and a ceremony for brothers who have passed away. There is no reason for these ceremonies to be contained only to the ritual book. They are beautiful ceremonies and they demonstrate the application of our symbols and values without giving anything away.

Put them on the national website, a chapter website (they’re not secrets), Wikipedia, WikiFrat, in our new member manuals, wherever. They need to be accessible. If five fraternity brothers stay in touch for life and one of them passes away, there is no reason to suggest that the rest pay $1,200+ each attend a Convention or acquire a ritual book to conduct the Bond Eternal Ceremony.

Open Up Pledge/New Member Ceremonies

Some chapters invite parents or spouses to the Pledge Ceremony. Ours reveals little about our fraternity, its symbols, or what they mean. Consider that 10-20% of the men who take part in a Delta Sigma Phi Pledge Ceremony do not follow through with initiation. . . it was designed to maintain our secrets.

That ceremony is a wonderful opportunity for parents to be involved at the start of their son’s journey as a fraternity man. It can also serve as an important moment (similar to most ancient or indigenous rites of passage) where they learn that their son or daughter should try to become self-sufficient.

To follow that up – make your member experience about helping people become self-sufficient (this goes to FSL pros too). Defend this next generation of college students from the helicopter parents which plagued the Millennials.

Chapters – Create Local Ritual Books

If you can’t write down your local rituals – even if you keep it just as secret as the national ritual – then you seriously need to rethink your local rituals and traditions. I am not even saying that as a finger-wagging fraternity/sorority professional; it’s just practical advice.

Furthermore, writing down the specifics of, for example, your big brother ceremony, your pre-initiation traditions, your senior wills ceremony, etc., will allow you to provide clear instructions so that Johnny 6-Pack – Sergeant at Arms 2022 – can’t wildly misinterpret what he “remembers” and get your chapter shut down for killing someone.

Writing the rituals/traditions down is half the battle to making sure they stay intact and making sure they are net-positives for your brotherhood. Relying on memory is for shamans, and I don’t care how much pot you smoke – a shaman you are not.

Provide Redacted Editions of Ritual

Short of going completely public, Fraternities should consider providing versions of their secret ritual ceremonies with the “secret” elements redacted.

What does that mean? Anyone who search the internet for a Sphinx, three pyramids, a lamp, a lute/lyre, and a Gordian Knot – all of which are symbols of hundreds or thousands of other organizations – can probably make a surprisingly accurate guess as to what our initiation ceremony is like or what those symbols represent. It’s not rocket science.

There are some secrets which add to the fun of the brotherhood. The secret behind YITBOS is ultimately meaningless – but fun. The secret grip, knock, password, etc. are ultimately meaningless, but fun. (How many of you actually use them as a security measure?) 

So why not show people that our ritual doesn’t endorse any form of violence and show people that it actually has a modern, relevant message by sharing the unsecret parts and redacting those which give away the few secrets we actually wish to protect?

In Summary: Ignore the most offensive elements of this post and advocate for those with which you might agree. I’ll leave you with this splendid tweet from a member of Phi Kappa Psi’s Executive Council:

He clarified that MIFCA/MAPCA is now AFLV for the youngins out there.