Founders’ Intent: How Ritual Binds Us Together

By Austin Landry (Louisiana Lafayette/Birmingham Southern)

There are Rituals and there are rituals. A ritual for some men is that, when they shave, they start on the same side of the face every day, more like a habit than anything else. However, a Ritual is something totally different. A Ritual is a formal, well thought out ceremony that is meant to be something more than a habit. Some Rituals go back thousands of years.  Some are new and some are yet to be established.

The Sigma Nu Ritual began in 1869 when three young cadets at the Virginia Military Institute decided to form a new organization opposed to hazing, which, at the time was rampant at the Institute. On the edge of the Institute parade ground, three cadets, James Frank Hopkins, Greenfield Quarles and James McIlvaine Riley met and committed to each  other to form an organization opposed to hazing, with Love , Truth, and Honor as a foundation. Thus, the Legion of Honor was formed, an organization now known as the Sigma Nu Fraternity.

Now, more than 140 years later, Sigma Nu continues to hold true the basis of the foundation of Love, Truth, and Honor set by the founders. As with any organization, some form of Ritual was needed to induct new members into the Fraternity. In the beginning, like many organizations, the ceremony was new and resulted in some later changes. In Sigma Nu, in those early days, there was not a formal candidate or pledge process or ceremony. Young men were observed and, by their actions and honorable behavior, were determined to be worthy of wearing the badge of Sigma Nu.

Later, when a formal pledge or candidate process was deemed necessary, an addition to the Sigma Nu Ritual was made to include a meaningful and memorable ceremony for those desiring to be members of the Sigma Nu Fraternity. However, this ceremony did not yet make them full members of the Fraternity.

In many Rituals, the candidate for membership does not really know what to expect from the ceremony. As a result, if the ritual has any substance and meaning, the individual going through the ceremony is nervous about the process and may not remember all that happened in the ceremony. Therefore, it is important for the Ritual to be informative and memorable. The Sigma Nu Ritual is both. Every member remembers the place, setting, and process, both during the candidate and the initiation ceremony. This is one of the things that binds together every Sigma Nu from the first Ritual which was passed word to mouth and was memorized, to the current hard bound Ritual. The Ritual is the symbolic glue that includes the words and actions to which we can all relate, whether in a large chapter of 100 Brothers that is over 120 years old or a newly chartered chapter. Each of our meetings begins and ends with the Ritual for meetings, during which, we are reminded of the commitment we made during our Initiation.

In the same fashion, Greek fraternities and sororities become bound together by means of each of their unique, but related Rituals, creating a common bond of members, both undergraduate and alumni. Without Rituals, we would only be clubs, rather than fraternities and sororities. How many alumni would be willing to go back to the college or university campus to have a reunion of one of the clubs? In fraternities and sororities, all of us are ready to stay in touch with our Brothers and Sisters, whether they live down the block or in Thailand. The Ritual helped provide the foundation of that common bond.

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