A Scout, in the etymological sense, denotes one who listens to something and gives heed to it. This paying of attention was usually done in service to others, with celebrated scouts of historical acclaim always toting themselves as the “one on the watch for the rest.” A critical community ideal where the earliest use of the word, dated to the 15th century, clearly depicted a person with a unique skillset and held in very high esteem by their group. Culturally, the Scout is embodied widely within myth, folklore, and legend, where deeper nuances of meaning regarding its characterization can be discovered by young & old alike. Some of the oldest occidental images emerge out of Norse Mythology, as in the pair of ravens Huginn (“thought”) and Muninn (“memory”) who fly out each morning across the wide world to serve Odin with all the latest NEWS (views to the North, East, West, South). Without the help of such “scouts” in heeding this news, it would become impossible for Odin to administer justly that which his worldly kingdom required. As we gaze out on the world in these perilous times, many feel deeply the sense of being lost and out of touch. A cultural lament exists if we listen carefully, acknowledging the loss of such guides who provide the key observations which keep us awake and aware of the moral compass emblazoned upon our souls. So, it is in this mythic sense and meaning that I wish to ponder a more youthful, soulful take on the Scout and Scouting. Where we may rediscover what lies at the roots of and at the very heart and soul of the Scout’s journey. The capacity to have a conversation with Nature, and when gifted the time to listen, ponder and heed such NEWS deeply, to re-member ourselves and declare order in our own kingdoms.
Modern understandings of the Scout, however, are most often about the Scouting movement founded by Robert Baden-Powell, Ernest Thompson Seton, and Daniel Carter Beard in the early days of the 20th century. Other vital players helped inspire and evolve this worldwide movement over time, such as Charles Eastman, but these three
stand out as the principal organizers regarding its creation. Boy Scouts officially got its start in 1908 in the UK, while America followed soon after in 1910; Girl Guides and Girl Scouts followed in 1910 for the UK and 1912 for the USA. A coming together of morphic resonance where the archetypal idea of the Scout once more took root. As a worldwide phenomenon, the Scouting movement became the largest youth organization in history. When Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys was published in 1908, it became the most influential manual for youth ever published, second in the English-speaking world only to the Bible. It was indeed a stroke of genius. Its meteoric rise in popularity worldwide was due to it being the exact answer to need at the right moment in time. And despite the failings, scandals, and misunderstandings that have plagued that rise over the past half a century, the resurrection of the Scout, as a mythic archetype,remains even more crucial today.
To see and understand such needs, some perspective will be critical. Required will be our capacity to place these players upon the historical stage of values where they played out their part of the scouting story. A stage transitioning in Britain from the pastoral to the Imperial, and the Victorian/Edwardian dying days of Empire, to a competing American paradigm moving from the wilderness/frontier rugged individualist into the industrial juggernaut of our present time – the industrial model that has shaped the rising factories, schools, and governing systems overlooking our civic lives. This new spirit of Scouting was readily taken up by these “children of destiny” (Baden-Powell, Seton, and Beard), which they coupled to their insight and realization of youth’s need for adventure. The “boy Issue” of hooliganism was rampant during these transitional times, and all three looked to examples within indigenous cultures where a fuller promise for youth was more prominently displayed and carried out. This aim, now resting in their care, pointed to adventures resonating with the time-honored rites-of-passage of the past, where the perennial wisdom contained in such preparatory rites would assist in carrying youth across the threshold of adulthood. Their journey of coming together was a perfect storm. While their individual biographies are worth broader attention for those with a penchant for tracking such things down, all three were highly competent artists and not only capable of creating something new but bringing it forward as well. Baden-Powell, with his vision of Arthurian Knights, coupled to a Sherlock Holmes’s observational-deductive methodology, along with Seton’s Birch Bark Roll of Indians and Beard’s Sons of Daniel Boone, together, ushered in their idea of the new Scout. Their educational approach moved boys beyond the reach of repressive pedantic schoolmasters, moralizing parsons, coddling parents, and a world rushing pell-mell into a factory-like future. For such a hazardous time, Scouting was heaven-sent for boys, answering precisely the perennial, archetypal call of the wild!
Here was the promise of real adventure at a time when some of the world’s most extraordinary feats of land exploration took place when these men were boys. Nostalgia for such experiences took the place of what was narrowly becoming a lost reality to most youth. Real adventures were designed to take up the task of “character” formation, with all the concomitant rites & rituals that lift one to higher levels of being. The Scout’s character, understood as a “symbol or imprint on the soul,” was attained, earned, and represented by the universal scout symbol. A stylized fleur-de-lis where the three leaves represented the Scout Oath of duty to God, self, and the commitment to obeying the Scout Law, while the two small five-pointed stars stand for truth and knowledge. Together their ten points represent the ten original Scout Laws – to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, positive, thrifty, and the trifecta promise to be physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. The reef knot or square knot represents World Scouting’s strength, and the rope is for the unity of Scouts throughout the world. The ring holding the petals together represents the bond of brotherhood.
Cap this all off with a motto to “be prepared,” followed by the injunction to do a good deed daily – turning the ideal of the Golden Rule into manifestation – and you have a powerful medicine bundle the likes of which the world had never seen before, and which the world of youth was starved for. Rightly so, Scouts and Scouting was aptly seen by progressive Educator Maria Montessori as freeing children from the narrow limits to which they had become culturally confined while offering once again the timeless promise of the Hero’s journey.
If a vital responsibility of a community, society, or culture is the development of character for youth transitioning into their adult roles, then suffice it to be said here that along with the vanishing ways of life at the turning of the century, a vast gulf for youth to cross was simultaneously being created. The Scouting movement created by Baden-Powel, Seton, and Beard was an epic event that stormed the world. Scouts and Scouting, as representative of youth, were held, culturally valued, and esteemed at the exact time needed. The hazards, though, set in motion with this transitional time of competing paradigms, exposed the risk of what was real regarding youth’s developmental needs becoming more artificial. In time, as all new initiatives progressed, natural hazards did follow within its shadows, and as vigilance waned, something of the heart & soul of Scouting was lost to its institutionalized pursuit of mission.
So, what exactly was forgotten or lost sight of in those shadows?
It was in the nature of “time” itself.
Nothing is simple, of course, but the adolescent was in time forgotten while adolescence was targeted. Seen as a market, as opposed to responsibility, the Scouting movement became institutionalized, needing greater and greater management, which came at a direct cost to the Scout, and the gift of time they experientially required. The adult task of its obligatory role and responsibility to initiate youth at the individual, family, and community level was relinquished to a corporate regimentation unable to remember and recreate the rites-of-passage experience necessary for youth. The “mission creep” that set in over time was antithetical to the lifecraft mission of Scouting and the deep time immersion required. Life, now being lived in the hustle and bustle of a paradigm dominated by the destination instead of the journey, where the time-rich nature of experience in direct contact with Nature waned. What we call Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) entered the life of youth then and is witnessed today by the transposed attention and intention of work directed at youth regarding video games, smartphones, apps, and text messaging. Experience now devolved to and defined by selfies and Instagram moments that replace the real with the artificial. Lost within both these cultural paradigms was the ancient, time-honored initiatory rite for youth which we have come to know as the right-of-passage.
In no small measure, though, in the early 20th century, youth were falling into the ranks of hooliganism. Today, they are falling into the ranks of what I call a spectator society. They sit. Locked into screens watching life go by. Passive and content, inhabiting a series of interiors where real connections are seldom seen. The hazards have increased exponentially.
On average, we are told that our youth are spending 9 hours a day looking at a screen, and it is predicted to move to 10 -11 hrs./day. Such a day doesn’t leave much time for anything bordering on the experience of reality – or experiences that include an element of relationship to life and the living. Life, for the adolescent, is, unfortunately, becoming all too virtual.
The “interiors” I speak of here are the repetitions of a daily routine moving from house to car, school, car and gymnasiums, music lessons, and meeting places that we seldom walk to anymore. When rewinding back to our homes at days end, we discover we have little connection to the space between any of these places or areas where we have spent our day, thus lacking critical connections within our brain which are tasked with making some kind of coherent sense out of a day’s stream of activities. Too much of life is conducted in the fast lane of 65mph, and I would advocate for a severe shift to a mode of engagement that gets us back to natural life at 3mph. How else does one relish, enjoy, and value any experience if not savored?
Societal expectations, or the “maps of life guidance” we pass on as nurture, don’t often offer real help or assistance either. Instructions, orders, dictates, rules & regulations, fears, and apprehensions – yes, but of no use in navigating these times’ emotional disconnect. Youth enter adolescence hard-wired for relationships and discover the modern brave new world of existence, often devoid of meaning, value, and loving relationships. A world of things; material possessions, jobs, goals & objectives, and bricks & mortar physical spaces where we work through our day with diminishing human interaction. We inhabit a very narrow world shaped by bandwidths that are fearfully nuclear concerning the real-time relationship with the world of great Nature, which we are part & parcel of. This is referred to as a biophobic condition within certain realms of thought and in stark contrast to a more natural human state seen as biophilia.
What we offer regarding “philosophical maps” for guidance reminds me of what E.F. Schumacher spoke to almost 50 years ago in his book A Guide for The Perplexed when on a visit to Leningrad, Russia. While attempting to follow a map while exploring the city, he could not orient his position on the ground to the map in hand; he could see several enormous churches, but there was no reference to them on his map. When asking the trip interpreter to explain the discrepancy, he was told that the state didn’t show churches on their maps, only what they referred to as museums and not live or living churches. It occurred to Schumacher then that this was not the first time he was given a map that failed to show many things that he could see and experience with his own eyes. It took years of perplexity to eventually get to the point where he stopped suspecting his perceptions’ sanity and began, instead, doubting the soundness of the maps. Schumacher’s relatively sober musings led him to recognize that “the more thoroughly acquainted we became with the details of the map, the more we absorbed what it showed and got used to the absence of the things it did not show, the more perplexed, unhappy, and cynical we became.” Such is the case today, and certainly at the turning of the century, where Nature has become something we nostalgically frame or relegate to time-off and not perceived as a vital life-sustaining relationship requiring a language in need of learning. Scouting addressed this need straight on!
For us, this becomes a pressing realization and the question today as our virtual world view appears to keep us locked collectively in a stupor of complacency and absolute belief in the integrity of our societal or philosophical maps. Maps that are placing more and more of Nature into museums of make-believe and failing to even introduce us to Nature’s language that the Scout was trained to listen to and heed. That we are more perplexed, unhappy, and cynical needs only reflection upon the daily news to make one ponder how significant the dangers are today – 50 years later – reflecting a dis-ease rampant at the individual and cultural, emotional level of our being.
It is here that it will serve us well if we harken back to Charles Eastman’s influence upon the early scouting movement. Charles Eastman (1858-1939), the Santee Sioux known as Ohiyesa, was a primary influence upon Seton, but he is key to understanding and reconciling the scout conjunction of Baden-Powell, Seton, and Beard. While all three men were influenced by indigenous people and practices, wishing to live that life, Eastman was the only one who had actually lived it. Having survived the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890, where Native American’s intimacy
with Nature died alongside their last formal resistance to the manifest destiny in play about them, Eastman went on to become a prominent spokesperson of Native American Culture and its rights. More importantly for Scouting, he was a welcome record of the deep nature experiences once in play for youth and a reminder of the obligatory responsibility of both young and old in keeping and preserving that commitment toward time spent alone in Nature as a prerequisite of health and wholeness. No schedules, tasks, assignments, or imperatives to accomplish; just time, where one was free to discover a way to converse and commune with Nature; and do one’s own thinking. Most maps we hold today tell us exactly what to think instead of how, and very little place exists for the art & craft connecting us to the living and vibrant world of Nature.
One of the many gifts of Native American culture, with the most notable being that of democracy itself, was the fullest understanding of the relationship between knowledge of “place” (aka Nature) being intimately tied to knowledge of “self,” and were the two ever to be separated, then so too would be our understanding of our personal and collective story.
In these earlier cultures, the universe was experienced primarily as a presence to be communed with and instructed by, not a collection of natural resources for utilitarian purposes. This manner of relating human affairs to the larger universe was dominant, and indigenous people attained inner strength through ritual communion with powers present throughout the natural world. There is a magnetic and nervous force that comes from much solitude in the outdoors; time spent learning to have a conversation with Nature, where one listened to and heeded that which was communicated as wisdom, was learned via woodlore and woodcraft – an educational undertaking synonymous with the lifecraft of Scouting. This coming to know one’s place, or home/nature, required time, the time where one learned to listen and heed what was being communicated. The Scout, to be of service to others, became conversant with a natural intelligence reflecting the wisdom of a higher order. To this end, a common Native American practice was what some today call the Secret Spot. Everyone had a secret spot, or place in Nature, where one went alone to do this communing, to do their own thinking. After all, it is truly at the very core of Nature, from the Latin natus, meaning “to be born,” where we can be drawn out or educated. Core to this practice was the recognition that we have two minds in need of daily attending: The Spirit Mind and the Day Mind. Worship of the “great mystery” was silent, solitary, and free from self-seeking. Communion with the unseen described by the word “Hambeday“- literally “mysterious feeling” or consciousness of the Divine. The revelatory meaning of this divine Nature has always been represented by the myths, archetypes, symbols, and folklore within the Spirit Mind of a culture and is thus more collective, universal, and shared. This Nature requires transformational digestion into the Day Mind’s workings, which is a more personal and uniquely individualized understanding. The Soul work where we make the ideals of the Spirit Mind our own, working inwardly to stamp the badge of character upon the very fabric of our innermost being. Two very different kingdoms, where, like Cinderella or Iron Hans, we leave one to have the new experiences where we consciously labor and suffer intentionally the trials & tribulations of the journey representing the living relationship between the two. The requisite time needed for re-establishing this connection to Nature is now being referred to as Nature Rx.
Such daily, devoted time in nature prepared youth for the main ritual that marked their full transition into a fully responsible adult. One now ready, prepared, and dedicated to that understanding of service; a real Scout. Rites-Of-Passage are crucibles where youth devour themselves; where, with the fire of attention, guided by law, they become new men and women. Youth cry for and require a vision that becomes their North Star for navigating life and discovering meaning. Youth MUST make this crossing, or else they run the risk of remaining within a “sibling society,” where like Peter Pan, they refuse to grow up.
The Scout could become a new mythic Hero for us. Once again, the journey is initiated by such calls to adventure that Scouting once offered. Time spent in Nature,mirrored by an entry into the “wild” or “wilderness” of Nature and ourselves, where we stand upon that will point where one heeds and responds to life’s call to service.
If youth lose that sense of soul, we trivialize their existence and the hero’s mythic journey. Culturally, we have forgotten the language of both minds and worlds. Science has given us a new revelatory experience of the Earth as an organism, and we have created a waste world as opposed to a wonderworld. Soul embraces and calls us toward what is most unique in us. At the same time, Spirit encompasses and draws us toward what is most universal and shared. Rilke tells us, “if we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we would rise up rooted like trees,” and this is why ROP’s that serve this connection are so needed – where we hear that call. Without Scouts, the Industrial Age’s revelatory experience and its media open Pandora’s box of institutional dependency and a vision separating our Soul & Spirit. We have become intoxicated with the view.
This is the way of the Scout; and why the Scout, as a mythic figure of promise, needs to live in all of us, young & old, once again.
“When a myth is enacted in a ritual performance or, in a more general, simpler and more profound fashion, when a fairy-tale is told, the healing factor within it acts on whoever has taken an interest in it and allowed himself to be moved by it in such a way that through participation will be brought into a connection with an archetypal form of the situation and by this means enabled to put himself “into order.”
~ Marie-Louise Von Franz ~