Chapter 5 - Managing Spirit and Traditions

Aside from the long history of the White Stag program and its leadership development curriculum, its spirit and traditions are what really make it distinctive.

The programs and activities described in this chapter are essential to the program's ongoing success. These things affect youth participants emotionally, securing in their hearts a desire to become better leaders.

Most of our modern, civilized world is stripped of the shaping moments found in the ceremonies described in this chapter. Even if an individual belongs to a particular church, synagogue, temple, or another social group, it is unlikely that they have had these kinds of experiences. When was the last time someone woke you in the middle of the night, told you not to talk, and to follow them to points unknown for reasons they would not explain? And you trusted them?

During one week of summer camp, the White Stag program's impact on a youth's emotional or intellectual capabilities is necessarily limited. That is why the spirit and traditions described in this chapter are so extremely important. They help us positively influence people emotionally and spiritually. It's that experience, in addition to the exposure to the leadership competencies, that causes individuals to return again and again to follow the White Stag. And with that repeated exposure individuals begin to integrate the White Stag experience into their personal lives.

This chapter preserves the source documents[1] that comprise the physical body of the White Stag spirit. It includes:

It is important to remember that producing leaders, both from within the youth staff and from the summer camp participants, is the most important goal of the White Stag program. Training young people to be leaders through per-sonal example, through knowledge of the subject, and through the White Stag spirit, is the primary work of each staff patrol. Spirit and traditions are powerful tools that complement the leadership devel-opment curriculum, creating a synergistic effect on learning.

By giving our members and participants the symbol of the White Stag as an ideal to stretch towards, we hope that they will shape their actions so to become better human beings and leaders. For example, by dramatizing the White Stag legend in a ceremony, we hope to inspire the trainees with the living spirit of continuing personal growth as represented in the ongoing pursuit of the White Stag.

Through our numerous White Stag traditions and ceremonies, the learners experience the principles of patrol organization and leadership, and carry these ideals of Scouting and White Stag back to their own unit and further into their lives. Then the goal of the White Stag Program is achieved.

Staff Responsibilities

Each program phase should select from among its youth staff someone who is responsible for spirit and traditions. This could simply be someone who is designated the "cheerleader/song master," or it could be someone who is put fully in charge of all ceremonies, spirit, and traditions. These duties may be in addition to their regular responsibilities, depending on staffing levels. This person should be an individual who is a spark plug to the rest of the patrol, someone who is outgoing and has an ability to control the group, hopefully someone who is known as a story and joke teller.

Their responsibilities, depending on what is asked of them, can include planning and implementing (with staff participation, of course) all ceremonies to keeping the staff and candidates inspired via songs and yells. For example, this person could prepare daily messages in White Stag code. The person ought to be someone with experience with the Phase's spirit and traditions who also has good planning ability and logistical control.

Also see Chapter 4 - "Organizational Structure for a thorough description of the job of the adult Spirit and Traditions support staff.

Yearly Spirit and Tradition Activities

During staff training each year, the following general events ought to take place:


Critique of previous year, input to new staff; organization of patrol; develop yell, song, flag, and so forth; explanation of importance of spirit and tradition.


Review of ceremonies, revised to meet current needs; explanation of White Stag legend, presentation to new staff members; development of songs, skits and hurdles. Practice camping skills related to spirit and traditions (e.g., splices for waist rope).


Discussion of concept of adventure trail and its design, practice of hurdles; song leader, cheer master assignments made, selection of ceremony sites, completion of goals and objectives for spirit and tradition; patrol names given in ceremony.


Rehearsal of ceremonies; gathering equipment for ceremonies, Adventure Trail; pre-sentation of staff neckerchiefs.

You can review a suggested program calendar for the all events during the program year in Chapter 8 - "Program Year Calendar.

White Stag Traditions

The traditions described here have accumulated over many years. The embody a rich lore and spirit that makes this program unique.

Program Symbols

White Stag Legend

The White Stag Legend is a myth telling the origins of the Hungarian people, the Huns and Magyars, and their long migration from Turkey to Europe. There they hope to find a permanent home, "surrounded by mountains, warmed by the sun, sheltered from the cold, a land rich in game and green pastures, between two great rivers rich in fish..." The full story is told in an award-winning children's book by Kate Seredy, The White Stag, published in 1937. This book is so well-written that it has continuously remained in print since its initial publication.

As a predominant cultural myth of the Hungarian people, it was chosen as the official symbol of the Fourth World Jamboree held in Hungary in 1933. Lord Baden-Powell spoke of the White Stag at the closing ceremony of the Fourth World Jamboree:

"Each one of you wears the badge of the White Stag...I want you to treasure that badge when you go from here and remember that it has its message and meaning for you.

"Hunters of old pursued the miraculous stag, not because they expected to kill it, but because it led them on in the joy of the chase to new trials and fresh adventures, and to capture happiness. You may look on that White Stag as the pure spirit of Scouting, springing forward and upward, ever leading you onward and upward to leap over difficulties, to face new adventures in your active pursuit of the higher aims of Scouting--aims which bring you happiness.

"These aims are to do you duty to God, to your country, and to your fellow man by carrying out the Scout Law In that way, each of you will help to bring about God's Kingdom upon earth--the reign of pace and good will."

White Stag Logo

The White Stag Logo is a stylized white stag leaping left, usually resting on a dark green circle.

The name was chosen by Béla Bánáthy, White Stag's founder, who emigrated to the U.S. from Hungary in 1948. The stylized White Stag our program uses was adapted by Ralph Herring from the symbol on the patches of the Fourth World Jamboree.

    The White Stag logo (the White Stag surrounded by a green circle) and the White Stag silouette (the White Stag on a background without a green circle) are trademarked and may only be used by permission.

    Order of the Still

    The Order of the Still is a command used only on very special occasions that requires absolute silence from the participant. It is meant for ceremonial use, for example, as candidates and sometimes staff are traveling to and from a ceremony. It is never used to get a patrol to be quiet in the middle of the day. It also requires that no flashlights are to be used except those of the staff. Its use ought to inspire solemnity and respect for the event.

    Letter to a Patrol Leader

    Lord Robert Baden-Powell's Letter to a Patrol Leader New Browser Window is used by PMD, PLD, and TLD at certain times.

    In short, it says,

    First, win your boys by making yourself their friend and helper.

    Secondly, influence them by your example in conduct and in doing things.

    Thirdly, control them with your good sense and by keeping them to the teaching of the Scout Law.

    The boldfaced letters form the (out-of-order) acronym, WICOIN, which is the PLD phase yell. See Letter to a Patrol Leader for a complete copy of the letter ready as a handout.

    Waist Ropes

    A waist rope, or commando toggle-rope as it was previously known, is a 6' length of ¼" manila hemp. A eye splice is fashioned in both ends, one to hold a toggle and the other end is open, to receive a carved wooden toggle. Sometimes a short splice is also placed in the middle, although this has the potential for weakening the rope. Waist Ropes are typically made by Troop Leader Development candidates.

    Their purpose of making the waist ropes during the beginning of the summer camp week is to help the members begin to get to know and rely on one another as they teach one another the splices required. A hurdle sometime during the week should require the candidates to use the waist ropes in a meaningful way. See Waist Ropes below for a description of how to make a waist rope.

    Waist Rope Instructions

    Click for larger image

    The Turk's Head Neckerchief Slide (Woggle)

    The Turks' Head neckerchief slide is made by each member of each phase. We make a three lead (or turns) version and use the three leads to represent the three phases of the White Stag program. This is also interpreted to represent the infinite possibility for growth we recognize in White Stag, seemingly never ending, physically resembling the mathematical symbol for infinity. It is made by all candidates the first day or two of the summer camp and is worn by all candidates and staff. See Turk's Head Neckerchief Slide below for more information.

    Woggle Neckerchief Slide

    Place the braid around three fingers of the left hand, palm up (Fig. 1). The working end of the braid known as "X" and the stationary end as "Y".
    Bring end X over the stationary end Y (Fig. 1) and around the back of the hand (Fig. 2).
    Thread end X over A and under Y thus forming B (Fig. 2-3).
    Turn the hand over, palm down (Fig. 4).
    Loop A over B and B under A (Fig. 5). Hold in position by placing the forefinger of the left hand between A and B.
    Thread end X under B through the crisscross loop thus formed by A and B (Fig. 6).
    Thread end X under B (Fig. 6) over A and under B again (Fig. 7-8).
    Turn the hand over, palm up (Fig. 9). Bring end X along side of and parallel to end Y by threading the strand under A and over B (Fig. 9-10). Follow the direction of the dotted arrow.
    The Turk's head neckerchief slide is formed by following this strand Y around three times; i.e., until there are three braided strands parallel to each other all around the slide (Fig. s 10, 11, 12)
    The second time around is indicated in fig 11 as well as the beginning of the third time around. Fig 12 indicates end X on the completion of its third time around.  
    In doing this it may be necessary to take in the slack from time to time in order that there will be a sufficient amount of material to complete the slide.
    It is important to adjust the slide so that it will be neat as well as the right size. Then, too, it will be necessary to remove the slide from the fingers when you thread end X around the for second and third time (Fig. 11-12).
    The slide ends at the same point at which it was begun (Y). This completes the neckerchief slide.

    The Turk's Head knot is commonly used as a covering knot. Members of the Boy Scouts of America have taken a liking to tying a five bight, three lead variation which they call a "woggle." The woggle is a symbol associated with the Wood Badge Program and worn as a neckerchief slide in memory of the Scouting founder Baden-Powell, who can be seen in most pictures of him to be wearing one. In sailing, the knot was tied around hold-fasts to prevent chipping of the deck as block and tackle were lowered from the mast.

    White Stag Code

    The White Stag Code, a simple substitution code, was invented by an unknown author early in the program. It is another element used to instill a feeling of uniqueness and esprit de corp among program participants. Short messages are usually posted around camp using the code during the week. Sometimes the kitchen helps and distributes the menu in code. The purpose is first, fun, and second, to help the group work together creatively to solve a problem. See an illustration of the White Stag Code.

    Candidate Materials

    Many of these traditions require distribution of materials to candidates on the first day. Day One Candidate Equipment List lists the items required by most phases on the first day of the summer camp program.

    Award and Recognition System

    The White Stag awards and recognition system[2] is meant to provide immediate appreciation and long-term incentives and recognition. White Stag traditions are deeply imbedded in the history and traditions of Scouting, and its founder Lord Baden-Powell ("BP").

    Neckerchief Recognition System

    Each level within each phase has a special neckerchief. This system is described in Table 5-1 below. The complete design is illustrated in Figure 5-1.

     Neckerchief Recognition System
    Patrol Member Development
    (Phase 1)
    Patrol Leader Development
    (Phase II)
    Troop Leader Development
    (Phase III)
    A White Stag on a dark green circle (the basic White Stag Logo). Below the emblem are the letters, B.S.A. (Boy Scouts of America).
    Candidate neckerchief
    PMD plus a dark green circle around the emblem; within the circle are the words, at top, "White Stag", and at bottom, "Leadership Development".
    Youth staff neckerchief
    PLD plus a dark green square resting on one corner surrounding the circle and emblem.
    Adult staff neckerchief
    Youth Staff Candidate neckerchief plus green piping on edge of neckerchief
    Adult Staff Youth staff neckerchief plus white piping on edge of neckerchief
    Support Staff Plain neckerchief with White Stag Logo plus the words, at top, "White Stag", and at bottom, "Support Staff."

    The youth and adult staff receive their neckerchiefs in a special ceremony performed the night before the summer camp program begins.

    During the evening of the first day of the summer camp program, each candidate participant receives a simple, undecorated, pale green neckerchief. This symbolizes that they have begun a new adventure, that the patrol has started to become a unit, and helps develop patrol spirit. Even if the candidate previously attended another phase of the program, he or she still wears the simple candidate neckerchief. Upon graduation and during a closing ceremony the night before camp ends, candidates are awarded the candidate neckerchief for their phase.

    Candidate Awards

    The candidate receives a plain pale green neckerchief for wear during the summer camp, even if he has previously been a member of another phase.

    At the end of the summer camp and upon satisfactory performance, a Phase neckerchief is presented to each candidate, to be worn only at White Stag functions. See Neckerchief Recognition System for complete information.

    At the tri-phase closing ceremony, a candidate is presented with the Phase Outstanding Notebook Award, if desired, and with the outstanding Patrol Leader Award.

    At the tri-phase closing ceremony, each candidate receives from his PC/PL a packet containing his Certificate of Achievement and White Stag patch (as well as his medical and consent forms).

    It is suggested that at the Indaba a special seal to add to the certificate is presented to those who complete a Leadership Growth Agreement. We will have a greater likelihood of instilling the concept of "never-ending growth as a leader" with this device. The certificate represents the completion of the appropriate candidate phase. The seals may be an incentive for participation in the Indaba.

    Staff Awards

    Staff level neckerchiefs are presented the night before the candidates arrive in Phase ceremonies.

    The Certificate of Achievement and the red bordered staff patch is presented by the Phase Advisor at the end of the summer camp (along with the return of medical and consent forms).

    At the conclusion of the summer camp, one youth staff from each phase is selected as the outstanding youth staff award.

    Each Phase Advisor presents the Youth Staff Silver Stag award to the outstanding staff member at the tri-phase summer camp closing, if a deserving staff member has been selected.

    Adult Awards

    Support staff, Phase Advisors and Assistant Phase Advisors receive their neckerchiefs from the Post Advisor the night before the candidates arrive.

    The Silver Stag selection for adults is made by the White Stag Association in accordance with their guidelines and presented at the Annual White Stag Dinner.

    Other Program Traditions

    White Stag Fires

    God of the Ancients,
    Slave of their sons,
    Friend of our homes and foe of our houses,
    Builder and breaker of cities and civilizations,
    From the cave dweller of yesterday to the city dweller of today.

    Fire has been inseparably interwoven with the destiny of man.
    Fire, not the axe and the long rifle, but fire was the primary tool of the pioneer.
    Without it, the cabin his axe built would have gone unheated and his food uncooked.
    The ability to make fire is not less important today.

    The number one skill modern woodsmen must master is fire-building.
    The most vital thing he must learn is to build a fire, and control it, under any circumstances, anywhere, anytime.

    White Stag Poem

    When I find myself in need of comfort and my mind confused,
    I hike in pursuit of the White Stag, and there my soul is soothed,
    High in the Santa Lucia an idea started from a tiny spring,
    Moving down to meet its brothers and help make Scouting sing.

    --John Larsen, 1964

    White Stag Songs

    "White Stag Feeling"

    I've got that White Stag feeling
    down in my feet, down in my feet, down in my feet,
    I've got that White Stag feeling
    down in my feet, down in my feet, down in my feet,
    down in my feet to sta-a-y.
    I've got that White Stag feeling
    up in my head...


    I've got that White Stag feeling
    deep in my heart...(refrain)
    I've got that White Stag feeling
    all over me...



    I've got that White Stag feeling
    down in my feet, up in my head, deep in my heart,
    all over me...


    Sung by candidates only on the last day of the week:

    I've got that White Stag spirit...

    (and so forth.)

    "Trail the While Stag"

    Trail the White Stag, trail the white Stag,
    leading all the time.
    With his spirit and his ideals as our leading guide,
    keep seeking....

    Bless the trail and we will follow, hark the
    White Stag's call.
    On brothers, on, as we are leaders all...

    --Foster Thompson

    "White Stag Hymn"

    Green trees around us whispering in the breeze,
    Green trees around us growing straight and tall,
    They seem to know something about us all.

    White Stag is a spirit, White Stag is a camp,
    And you'll remember the hikes and trails so new,
    The friendships made that always stay so true,
    the joys we've shared will last our whole lives through.

    Green trees around us whispering in the breeze,
    Green trees around us growing straight and tall,
    They seem to know something about us all.

    --Peggy Aghazarian


    Oh when we chase, that mighty stag,
    Oh when we chase, that mighty stag,
    Oh it leads us on to adventure,
    When we chase, that mighty stag.

    Oh when the post goes hikin' on,
    Oh we like to be God's country.
    Oh when the Kudu begins to blow,
    Oh we know the fun starts happenin'.

    Oh when we feel that White Stag spirit,
    Oh our friends are many in number.
    Oh when the week comes to an end,
    Oh we'll cherish our fond memories.

    Oh when we chase that mighty stag,
    Oh it leads us on to adventure.

    --Foster Thompson

    Phase Spirit and Traditions

    Patrol Member Development

    Patrol Leader Development

    Troop Leader Development

    Using Ceremonies

    A ceremony is a powerful means to communicate with program participants. Some of our ceremonies are part myth and ritual, echoing long-lost rites of passage that our forbearers took part in at times beyond our cultural memory. They use the archetypes explained by famous psychiatrist Carl Jung to indoctrinate participants into the White Stag culture of love, acceptance, personal growth, spirituality, cooperation, and togetherness. The Order of the Still is but one example of the many traditions that do this. Ceremonies are intended to touch the tap root of each individual, to reach them where words cannot.

    We want to set a precedent or standard with our ceremonies in such a way that a participant's life will be made fuller and richer. We want to do this using the White Stag Spirit, the spirit of the Scout Oath and Law, and the Explorer Code, and to reinforce a learner's own positive values and beliefs.

    We weave the legendary trail of the White Stag into the program carefully that program participants' own faith and vitality, that intangible energy that drives them ever onward, becomes entangled between the real and the mythical.

    Finding a Theme

    Generally, a ceremony is a type of program that has a central controlling theme, subject, idea or message. Everything that happens in the ceremony leads to the full development of that theme. A ceremony may be sad, serious, funny, dignified, happy or sober, but it must have a definite purpose. A ceremony may inspire spiritual values, happiness, character development, love of the outdoors, love for our fellow humans; the list is endless. Ceremonies need to fit the place, the people and the message.

    The Purpose in Ceremonies

    Our overall purpose in conducting ceremonies is to encourage an attitude of continuous growth among learners in their day-to-day activities. In addition, we include ceremonies in the program because they:

    It is our hope that the youth will grow to become inspirational leaders who will in turn instill the guiding spirit in the youth of tomorrow. We expand our members' horizons by giving them a planned adventure to its grand climax. Careful development and presentation of the ceremonies must evidence strong principles, an integrated purpose, and set an example for continued achievement of higher goals.

    Ultimately, we want to develop participants' faith: faith in themselves, faith in their leaders, and faith in their destiny. We want learners to suspend their conscious and unconscious belief systems that say something is not possible, to believe in their own limitless opportunities, to nurture the youthful flame of hope. We intend to shape the youths' deeply placed attitudes and values, and thus establish a foundation within them for growth.

    We sustain this foundation for growth through constant program innovation and development and by using troop, patrol, and individual ceremonies or rituals. We emphasize the adult and junior staff to reinterpret and personalize the White Stag program's ideals each year as models for the participants.

    We continue to build from the foundation by planning and conducting ceremonial or spiritual activities. These are based on the master plan outlined in this book and, more importantly, on the leaders' own experience. We evaluate the activity and write down the idea for posterity.

    When Ceremonies are Appropriate

    There are many occasions for ceremonies. This is only a partial list of the possibilities:

    You can use ceremonies to mark any special occasion, though they ought not be abused. The program should be punctuated by ceremonies, not dominated by them.

    Original poems, original songs, old poems and songs, all can be used to make up the ceremony content. A balance of songs and words ought to be sought.

    Planning Ceremonies

    For maximum effectiveness, ceremonies must be planned and rehearsed. When planning a ceremony:

    Have a Clear Goal

    List the characteristics of the group members who will attend. Write down the reasons for the ceremony and develop a clear goal. If the ceremony is to give participants a token of some kind, be conscious of what the token is supposed to mean and why it is being given. Communicate this clearly during the event.

    Location, Location

    Remember that the setting is one of the most important factors affecting the success of the ceremony. Choose a location that:

    People ought to be comfortable watching the ceremony. You can't keep their attention if they're worried about falling off the side of a hill.

    Keep a Smooth Flow

    The ceremony ought to flow easily, with a definite, although inconspicuous, structure. The ceremonial master of ceremonies needs to be well-organized. The event should be well-planned and rehearsed, and the agenda clear to everyone who is helping with the ceremony.

    Allow ceremony partici-pants and leaders to express their personal thoughts, if appropriate. Be careful, because this can take a considerable amount of time. Use ceremonies to enhance group experience and to add to the depth of thought and feeling. Develop a sense of group consciousness. Encourage development of meaningful values.

    Practice, Practice

    If possible, go to the actual site of the ceremony and practice there. If you're including a potentially difficult stunt, like remotely lighting a fire, try it out a few times until you are confident it works without fail. Get all of the ceremonial leaders or actors together and rehearse your movements. Time how long it takes to actually perform certain events, as this may alter your decisions about what you will do.

    Nothing jars a ceremony and disturbs the mood you are trying to create than to have something go obviously wrong. Make sure you rehearse with all of the props and materials needed. The details are essential to the complete mood of the ceremony.

    Have Everything on Hand

    Print song sheets for all songs if they are not known or if there is not time to learn them. Give song sheets to the participants if they do not know the words; this helps them feel more involved in the ceremony. Create a check-list of materials as well as a written plan. (See Ceremonial Preparation Work Sheet for an example.) Lastly, be flexible; each ceremony can be a unique and special time.

    Special Ceremonies

    Some ceremonies are very special and are used only for a certain purpose on a specific evening at camp. Other ceremonies are adaptable and can be used for all ages, at any time, for a large or small group.

    The locations available for the ceremonies often affect what is done as well, if not entirely shape it. Some smaller ceremonies may be conducted within a phase or a patrol. An inventive Patrol Leader will find a few opportunities for them. Handing out berets in Troop Leader Develop-ment and presenting staves in Patrol Leader Development are two examples.

    [1] Petersen, Fran. The Responsibility of Spirit and Tradition. n.d. and Miyamoto, Alan. Spirit and Traditions. 1973. Fran Petersen was a Scoutmaster from Chular and a key leader early in the program's early history. Alan Miyamoto was an Assistant Scoutmaster from Monterey.

    [2] First documented by Alan Miyamoto, 1974.

    Copyright © 1981— , Brian Phelps. All rights reserved. Short portions may be excerpted for review and quotes. For copyright purposes, only introductory portions of this book are available online. Order the newest edition today.