As you approach your initiation, it is natural that you should wonder about it. Be assured that the initiation ritual of Kappa Alpha Order is impressive and dignified.
Our members, whether initiated fifty days ago, or fifty years ago, will agree that initiation into our Order is a life-changing event. KA’s ritual has endured for 145 years in constant rendition by men of intellect and achievement. A good ritual is a distillation of wisdom from ages past. Ours is exactly that.
The appeal of any ritual is its universal communication. It penetrates the mind and heart of the young initiate. It deals with the fundamental character of personal growth with which all men must deal. Society is in constant change, but human beings remain basically the same. Herein lies the value of ritualism; the initiate of today can relate to the initiate of other generations because both have reacted to an identical personal experience. A new initiate can feel vaguely akin to the glory of the past, yet to him the ritual is as fresh as the sunrise. It is the ritual that makes men fraternity brothers even though they have never met. It binds each initiate by a private but meaningful tie to all other members of the brotherhood.
The creators of the great rituals in history, for the most part, remain anonymous. Ancient ritualists, no less capable of keen insight into human character than those of today, may have created their work before there were written records, or chose to remain unidentified for reasons of secrecy. Kappa Alpha, however, is fortunate to know the principal author of its ritual, what kind of man he was, why he spent much of his time fostering character development through the fraternity, and how he went about the task of devising the symbolic path now trod by well over 150,000 Kappa Alpha brothers.
It does not detract from James Ward Wood and his earliest associations to say that what is now considered to be the essence of Kappa Alpha Order really came into being on October 1, 1866. On that day, Samuel Zenas Ammen was initiated into the then existent K.A. Fraternity. Ammen was a young man of deep imagination, and a profound student with a brilliance of mind that exceeded most of his classmates at Washington College. He was well versed in literature and the arts and possessed an understanding of ritualistic procedures enjoyed by few. Almost at once, he recognized the manuscript then in use was, as he put it, “mere verbal pyrotechnics in florid sophomoric style with nothing to touch the imagination of initiates nor stir their fancy.” He was, “impressed with the inadequacy of the ritual and at once urged the necessity for improvement,” particularly since an increased enrollment at Washington College that fall pointed up the need for a powerful initiatory ritual which would hold those selected for membership. Before the end of the first semester of that school year, James Ward Wood, William Nelson Scott and Samuel Zenas Ammen together created a new ritual, complete with regalia. However, for Ammen, this first effort was not good enough. He knew that to be effective, a ritual must tell a story and touch the heart, with appropriate action.
In 1922, Dr. Ammen wrote, “Kappa Alpha’s mission in the academic world is to withstand sordid materialistic tendencies by insisting upon the value of the spiritual aspirations and lofty ideals which are our people’s best inheritance. Wealth is to be sought as means to [attain] comfort, education, and broad culture, but regard must be had, above all, for the intangibles, the possession of which dignifies life and gives it real value. This quest is our perennial mission . . . We aim to perpetuate the . . . ideal of the gentleman, of which Lee is the perfect “expression.”
Kappa Alpha’s early environment determined its nature. Conceived and nurtured at the college of which Robert E. Lee was then president, it was natural that it be of military type and that it embrace as its aim the cultivation of those virtues and graces which had made Lee a great man, eminent in character, in peace, in war and after defeat. The new young fraternity sought to preserve those attributes for men in his college.
The Kappa Alpha ritual, as we know it today, was not created in one writing. Although it follows the original theme as developed by the first committee in 1866, it came into its present state through a continuous process of elaboration and refinement over five decades wisely directed by Ammen; Former Knight Commander Dr. William Sprigg Hamilton assisted Ammen with this process. In the concept of the new ritual, KA changed from a fraternity to an Order of Christian Knights pledged to the highest ideals of character and achievement. Over 145 years later, Kappa Alpha believes its ritual is a work of art – a masterpiece.
When speaking about Kappa Alpha and the ritual, Ammen commented, “I once heard a distinguished Kappa Alpha say that but three books are needed for the formation of the perfect man – Shakespeare, the Bible and the Kappa Alpha ritual. Shakespeare, he proceeded to explain, imparts general culture, the Bible forms the Christian, but the KA ritual creates the chivalrous Christian gentleman, the noblest product of the civilization of the world’s most enlightened age.”
Ammen, as well as other formulators of the Order, conceived the organization to be, first and foremost, a moral force for the intellectual and ethical upliftment of the membership. In seeking a model from which to derive Kappa Alpha’s principles of ideal manhood, Ammen utilized the image closest to his own experience, the idea of the Christian gentleman. By formalizing that image into a secret ritual, Ammen helped create the social and moral ideas and values for subsequent generations. Thus, Kappa Alpha carries the values of a former age.
Even when presented falteringly by young men untrained in drama and ritual, its noble concepts shine through. The ritual is a system of values designed to assist the initiate in defining his beliefs and ideals. The main purpose of the ritual is not to create a fraternity man, but to present a set of principles common to every Kappa Alpha brother. These timeless principles of the Order’s ritual take on new and different meanings and interpretations throughout one’s life; yet, no matter his age or situation, each brother incorporates the principles of the ritual into the essence of his being.