Tag Archives: ritual

5 Ways to Take Ritual to the Next Level

By Christopher Brenton (NC State)

The Ritual; the most sacred tradition of our Fraternity. For our brothers, The Ritual serves an important role of reminding each one of us of our oath and obligations to our fraternal brotherhood. When recited, The Ritual renews our sense of purpose and calls us to action, to carry out the values of Love, Honor, and Truth. As this week is National Ritual Celebration Week, think about how you and your chapter can elevate the reverence of our Ritual. Below are 5 examples of ways you can take Ritual to the next level.

1. Clean and Maintain Ritual Items

Contrary to popular belief, the items most strongly associated with our fraternity’s ritual ceremonies – – the sword, the bible, and robes – – are not secret. These items require spoken words of The Ritual ceremonies to provide their significance and give context. That being said, it is important to make sure that The Ritual materials are properly stored and maintained. Replacement of items when they have become tattered, worn, or rusted is recommended. When necessary, robes, linens, and station covers should be dry cleaned. All items should be stored in a manner that protects the items from damage and preserves their reverence.

Sigma Nu 65th Grand Chapter

2. Keep Inventory of All Important Ritual Items

Chapters should be mindful of completing ritual inventories before and after each ceremony to ensure preparation for next use. Ritual sets a tone for our meetings and should exist as a sacred and special time for our members. Distractions such as poor preparation, missing items, and neglect take away from our ability to focus on the message The Ritual offers us about the purpose of our organization. The responsibility for taking inventory of ritual items should be left with the chapter’s Chaplain.

3. Respect Your Ritual Books

According to Article Five, Section 3.1 of The Law of Sigma Nu Fraternity Inc. –“(3.1) All copies of The Ritual shall remain the property of the Grand Chapter. Making or having unauthorized copy of The Ritual shall be an offense punishable by Expulsion from the Fraternity.”

Every chapter has been provided five copies of The Ritual, one for each ceremonial officer position; Commander, Lt. Commander, Chaplain, Marshal, and Sentinel. No chapter is provided with more than five copies and the copies are considered on loan from the Grand Chapter. This means that copies of The Ritual were issued to your chapter and only to your chapter. Unless special permission is granted from the Regent, chapters are not permitted to loan or makes copies of The Ritual.

If your chapter has less than five copies, the books have been damaged, or the formula cards are missing, notify the General Fraternity and request replacements. Additionally, avoid writing in or making alterations to the text. The words of The Ritual have been written with great purpose and meaning; alterations lessen the message and take away from the consistency of our message. Words from the formula card should not be added to the book. The Ritual and key remain separate for a reason; to preserve what matters most to our Fraternity.

4. Practice and Perform the Affirmation of Knighthood and Funeral Ritual

Two of the Fraternity’s most underappreciated and often forgotten traditions are the Affirmation of Knighthood and Funeral Ritual ceremonies. Affirmation of Knighthood is a bridge between the collegiate and alumni chapter and is a graduation ceremony for brothers completing their undergraduate careers. During the ceremony, graduating brothers can be presented with an alumni lapel pin as a memento commemorating their time in the undergraduate chapter. The ceremony creates an opportunity for discussion with your senior members about how they can remain engaged and loyal alumni even after they have entered the next phase of their lives.

The Funeral Ritual is the Fraternity’s only public ritual. This ritual is used in memoriam of the passing of a brother into Chapter Eternal. The Law gives special permission to brothers to drape their badges with black ribbon during this time.


5. Dig Deeper Into Our Ritual with the Five Objects of Sigma Nu

One of the threads that connects all of The Ritual’s ceremonies together are the Five Objects of Sigma Nu. Introduced during the Candidate Ceremony, these objects are foundational to our organization and speak with great instruction about how each member (candidates, brothers, and Knights) is expected to act in alignment with the values of our Fraternity.

If your chapter hasn’t already started making this a part of your conversation about ritual and member accountability, begin immediately. You will be glad you did.

Christopher Brenton is a 2012 graduate of North Carolina State University where he majored in marketing. He is currently serving as a leadership consultant for the General Fraternity Staff.


The First Grand Chapter

By Zac Morrison (Eastern Kentucky)

July 9th, 1884, is a significant date in the history of Sigma Nu: it marks the first convention of Sigma Nu.  This convention, which would come to be known as the Grand Chapter, was held at the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville Tennessee. The Grand Chapter has significance for Sigma Nu as it serves as the governing body of the Fraternity. Prominent in its planning and execution was Isaac P. Robinson, the first member of Lambda Chapter (Washington and Lee). Upon hearing the successes of several chapters across the country, Robinson (now known in Sigma Nu history as the Father of the First Convention) felt it was necessary to take a collection of loosely connected chapters, some of which were struggling to survive, and form them into the Sigma Nu organization as we now know it. Through his work with John Alexander Howard (founder of The Delta) the convention allowed the Fraternity to prosper and move forward to future successes.

The first convention had several important agenda items that needed to be accomplished. Following  a reading of the Regent’s address (Regent W. H. Wade was unable to attend) the  delegates voted on and discussed  changes to The Ritual, adoption of a revised Constitution, the creation of Divisions, a location and time of the next convention, and  elections of the Grand Officers. Joe T. Barron of Alpha Chapter (VMI) presided over the proceedings and Alpha, Lambda, Kappa (North Georgia), Theta (Alabama), Zeta (Central) and Mu (Georgia) Chapters were represented by voting delegates.

The old Maxwell House Hotel. Photo courtesy of Tennessee.gov.

The old Maxwell House Hotel. Photo courtesy of Tennessee.gov.

Changes to The Ritual included updates to the original draft created by Founder Hopkins through the adoption of a “grip” which the Lambda Chapter introduced, and signs of recognition that John Alexander Howard conceived.

The Constitution was reviewed and adopted with little opposition. There was some debate over the question of requiring members to purchase a badge within one year of initiation. Jacob T. Barron moved that the resolution be amended to include “if able” but a compromise was settled to include “unless excused from doing so by his Chapter.” Furthermore, the new Constitution was updated to conform to the enlarged activities of the Fraternity.

The Divisions were made and separated into three parts. Division I included Virginia and West Virginia, Division II included Alabama, Kentucky, and Kansas, and Division III included Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Division Chiefs were elected for each respective Division.

Following a motion from George Forman of Zeta Chapter, Lexington, Kentucky was chosen to be the meeting spot of the second convention in 1886.

The convention elected several Grand Officer positions. The positions filled were Regent, Vice Regent, Grand Recorder, Treasurer, and Editor of The Delta. Jacob T. Barron, who served as the convention chair, was nominated for Regent, but declined and instead nominated his fellow chapter brother, Edward R. Arthur of Alpha.  Arthur was elected unanimously. John Alexander Howard was unanimously elected as Vice Regent and retained his position of Editor of The Delta. Isaac Robinson was elected General Secretary and Daniel W. Langston of Theta Chapter was elected Grand Treasurer. These four officers combined with the Division Chiefs were entitled the “Grand Chapter,” a title later conferred on the entire convention. This group of Grand Officers would later come be known as the High Council.

The 13th Grand Chapter as illustrated (humorously) in the February Delta in 1908.

The 13th Grand Chapter as illustrated  in the February Delta in 1908.

The events of 129 years ago still have an impact on the Fraternity today. The first Grand Chapter was crucial in providing infrastructure to the still young Sigma Nu and in establishing communication lines between alumni and chapters. Since 1884 there have been 64 more Grand Chapters. The Fraternity has expanded across the country and has a huge alumni base. Importantly, these chapters and alumni are reunited every two years at Grand Chapter, a time of fellowship and renewal.

At a point when Sigma Nu faced a struggle to survive as a national organization, great men came together and laid the foundation for an organized body of collegians and alumni that  would allow Sigma Nu to expand more than ever thought possible. We all owe the current state of our fraternity to what took place in 1884.

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Five Steps to Being a Good Member

By Ben Nye (Arkansas)

What are some practical steps to being a good member? It’s a simple question, and yet one that often gets overlooked in the bustle of chapter meetings, paperwork deadlines, and all the other tasks chapters have to worry about each week. Non office-holding members make up the majority of most chapters and finding ways for these members to contribute is important to Sigma Nu’s success. These five simple steps are ways each brother can be a contributor and fulfill his oath to Sigma Nu.

Read The Law

An important aspect of Sigma Nu membership is knowledge of the Fraternity’s Law. The Law serves as Sigma Nu’s instruction manual: it articulates rights, responsibilities,  obligations, and proper procedure. A full knowledge of Sigma Nu’s Law allows for proper operation of a chapter and successful navigation of membership . Without awareness of the Law, it is impossible to know if an idea or behavior is within the legal limits of Sigma Nu.

ImageKnow The Ritual

Sigma Nu’s Ritual is its oldest and most distinguishing document: The Ritual binds all Sigma Nus together in ways that nothing else can. Members reciting The Ritual take part in a tradition combining high ideals with rigorous standards that have existed since the founding of Sigma Nu. Knowing The Ritual is essential for participating fully in all chapter ceremonies and will give each man a greater appreciation for its importance.

Pay Your Dues

Like all other organizations, Sigma Nu must be well equipped financially to operate. The primary form of revenue chapters are allowed to collect is member dues. It is therefore essential that each member pay his dues in a timely fashion. There will be no socials, philanthropies, and minimal recruitment without finances. Furthermore, Sigma Nu’s national organization would collapse without the revenue to support educational programs and new expansion projects.

Serve on a Committee

One of the methods for chapters to get things done is through committees. Committees, when working properly, can alleviate stress of the leaders, involve multiple members, help younger members learn officer positions, and improve the effectiveness of the chapter. Members should seek out opportunities to serve on committees and when on them should attend meetings and seek responsibility.


Attend Chapter Meeting and Contribute to Discussion

As most business matters worth considering come up during chapter meeting, all members need to attend. A member must be in attendance to have his voice heard and not attending communicates indifference and apathy to the membership. Familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order can help too. This is what Sigma Nu uses during its biannual Grand Chapter, and every member should have a base level of familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order to apply during chapter meeting.

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The Purpose of Ritual

Are your chapter’s Ritual ceremonies a mindless recitation of arbitrary words or a meaningful reaffirmation of Sigma Nu’s founding purpose?

From Language in Thought in Action, by S.I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa:

Sermons, political caucuses, conventions, pep rallies, and other ceremonial gatherings illustrate the fact that all groups–religious, political, patriotic, scientific, and occupational–like to gather together at intervals for the purpose of sharing certain accustomed activities.

Among these ritual activities is always included a number of speeches, either traditionally worded or specifically composed for the occasion, whose principal function is not to give the audience new information, not to create new ways of feeling, but something else altogether.

The authors expand on this thought using the great American tradition of college pep rallies:

The members of “our team” are “introduced” to a crowd that already knows them.  Called upon to make speeches, the players mutter a few incoherent and often ungrammatical remarks, which are received with wild applause.  The leaders of the rally make fantastic promises about the mayhem to be performed on the opposing team the next day.  The crowd utters “cheers,” which normally consist of animalistic noises arranged in extremely primitive rhythms.  No one comes out any wiser or better informed than before.

…we cannot help observing that, whatever the words used in ritual utterance may signifiy, we often do not think very much about their signification during the course of the ritual.

We cannot regard such utterances as meaningless, because they have a genuine effect upon us.

What is the good that is done us in ritual utterances?  It is the reaffirmation of social cohesion.  Societies are held together by such bonds of common reactions to sets of linguistic stimuli.

Ritualistic utterances, therefore, whether made up of words that had symbolic significance at other times, of words in foreign or obsolete tongues, or of other meaningless syllables, may be regarded as consisting in large part of presymbolic uses of languages: that is, accustomed sets of noises which convey no information, but to which feelings (in this case, group feelings) are attached.  Such utterances rarely make sense to anyone not a member of the group.  The abracadabra of a lodge meeting is absurd to anyone not a member of the lodge.  When language becomes ritual, its effect becomes, to a considerable extent, independent of whatever significance the words possessed.

These observations, while insightful, do not describe the fraternity ritual.  The authors may describe the ritual as it is currently used by some chapters but certainly not as it should be used.

The authors do, however, help us acknowledge the reality that when many organizations perform ritual ceremonies they are merely ‘going through the motions’ rather than communicating meaningful ideas–in our case a reminder of Sigma Nu’s founding purpose.  In his timeless essay The Secret Thoughts of a Ritual, Edward M. King explains the purpose of fraternity ritual much more eloquently:

After being up almost all day and all night for a week, I am taken to a dimly lighted room where a number of people are gathered. There I am presented with much feeling and serious drama. It is obviously a moment of great climax for some of the people, for they are seeing and hearing me for the very first time. Shortly after the ceremony, I am brought back to the dark room and placed in the locked file drawer and I am not seen or heard of until the end of the next semester. In this case, as a ritual, what am I? Well, as I see it, I am a perfunctory service that must be performed in order to get new members into an organization. Once the initiation is over, I’m pretty much pigeonholed until the next class is to be initiated.

However, in some fraternity houses I exist in quite a different fashion. Shortly after the initiation the brothers come in one by one, get me out of the drawer and look me over carefully. Some just like to read me, others try to memorize me. Whatever the case, I like it when they use me. Sometimes they even argue over me, and this gets exciting because you see that’s what I’m about. I’m meant to be read carefully, discussed and even argued about. Yes, in fact, I can even be changed. I’m really a very human document, one that was written down some time ago after a great deal of thought of one or two men and I have been reworded, rephrased and re-evaluated many, many times.

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