The official Order of the Arrow website describes the organization as “Scouting’s Honor Society,” although it does say that it only received this designation in 1998. That would explain why my father’s experience with the Order of the Arrow in the Boy Scouts was quite different in the 60’s.
He described the Order of the Arrow as being an initiation ritual performed at the scouts’ summer camp on Catalina Island. Every summer the boys would be collected in a big U around the camp’s main fire. Men dressed in Native American costumes would perform a crude drumming then pull a small number of boys from the crowd (supposedly these boys were chosen ahead of time as superior scouts). The terrified boys would be draped in branches, forced to bow to the fire, and then sent to collect their sleeping bags from their cabins because they would sleep outside for the rest of the “Ordeal” (this is the official language from the OA website). For the next day the boys would not be allowed to speak, would be fed small amounts, and would be required to perform what the website calls “camp improvement projects.” My father said that it was tasks like cleaning out the latrines. After their Ordeal the scouts would again be presented to the campers around the fire the next night and allowed to go to dinner first.
For the official National Order of the Arrow description of the “Ordeal” and qualifications for Order of The Arrowmen, see http://www.oa-bsa.org/