Kappa Alpha Theta
birth of an idea is difficult to trace. Today it is impossible to trace much of
the initiation ritual to its beginnings or to identify its authors.
Certain it is that the pledge in its general significance, the receiving of a Greek name, the bittersweet, and the significance of the badge were part of the service since the founding of the Fraternity in 1870. The Welcome Song was written by Elizabeth Hughes, Beta, before 1876, and apparently at once included in the initiation service.
As Convention after Convention decided such momentous things as grip (1879) and whistle and flower (1889), their significance was added to the ritual. In 1881, a uniform ritual was adopted by Convention, apparently compiled from services developed independently by different chapters. The 1889 Convention ordered a copy of a uniform ritual sent to each chapter. This convention also adopted knocks and pass words. The 1895 Convention declared that no further effort would be made to establish a uniform ritual. However, at the next Convention (1897) the Grand Council demonstrated a ritual it had compiled, which was adopted with this proviso Chapters may add chapter forms. The 1899 Convention granted chapters permission to omit the reading of the Constitution in the initiation ritual.
The chapter chain idea was developed first by Beta, who wrote the original service, which included a special rose chant, as the neophyte walked under an arch of greenery to the initiation table. Alumnae of Beta going to live near other colleges gave this custom to other chapters. In 1899 chapter chains were made a Fraternity custom, with links for new members added at initiation, though apparently each chapter was left to make its own plans as to how and where this addition to the ritual should be made.
The priestess speech (the White Scene as it was long called) was written by Anna Botsford Comstock, Iota, in 1889.
An initiation ritual was officially adopted at the 1905 Convention and all chapters were to use it exclusively in the future.
The present coat of arms was adopted in 1907 and its significance added to the ritual. The present arrangement of the pledge was approved in 1915 and chapters were advised to substitute this form for the one then in the ritual book.
The 1915 Convention requested Grand Council to appoint a committee to compile a revised ritual which should include all forms then used universally. The committee was also to revise the diction where it was questionable; elaborate certain parts, so there would be better balance as the significance of Theta’s symbols; and prepare fuller instructions as to method of conducting the service, in order that it should be given more uniformly.
The personnel of this committee changed from year to year, indeed sometimes from month to month, but each of the more than a score of workers contributed something toward this service, the final editing having been done by the Grand Secretary under instructions and with advice from the Grand Council of 1924-26. It was revised in 1950, 1964, 1973, 1981 and again in 1996.
More important than anything else is the tone set by those in charge of the service. The initiation ritual is beautiful. It should be treated with the greatest dignity. It should be carefully rehearsed and all parts perfectly memorized both for the benefit of those to be initiated and for those taking part.
As part of our Fraternity life, it is an experience which we should all be proud and happy to share, and each repetition of it should make it mean more to each participant.
The Greek names assigned to each of the neophytes should be carefully pronounced ahead of time, so there will be no mistakes during the service.
There should be an adequate number of marshals to assure no accidents. Remember to have each initiate carefully guided while her eyes are closed so that she will have no fear of falling. There should be no preliminary initiation pranks. All preliminary preparations for initiation should be of the most pleasant nature, but, again, with the dignity that befits the occasion.
The chapter in the Bible may be read during the wait for initiation. Furthermore, new members should be informed of their initiation date as soon as it has been set. Relatives may wish to be present for the service, or the neophyte may have appointments that will have to be changed in advance.
Kappa Alpha Theta does not allow mock initiations of any sort. Any chapter which indulges in this outmoded and childish form of entertainment risks losing its charter.
Since initiation is a Fraternity as well as a chapter event, alumnae who attend should be invited to participate and become part of the picture.
Marshals. One doorkeeper, one head marshal and as many assistant marshals as there are neophytes going through each service. The head marshal shall be in charge of all plans for the initiation. The head marshal greets each neophyte as she arrives for initiation. The head marshal plans where each neophyte shall be placed before and after her appearance in the initiation room and plans for each neophyte to sign the initiation roll book.
Each assistant marshal shall be in charge of one neophyte for each time the service is repeated. She shall take her neophyte to her assigned room and call for her at the proper time.
President. The president should be so familiar with her part of the service that she will never seem nervous or unsure. She stands during her part of the service. She does not sing, nor repeat any parts that are done in unison. Greek names for neophytes may be written on index cards and placed inconspicuously on the initiation table.
Ritualist. The ritualist stands at the president’s right and reads or recites the Moral Code during the service; leads all the chapter in unison responses and assists the president in any way necessary.
Song leader. Stands at the left of the president. She must be so familiar with the service that she knows where each song starts. She leads all singing during the service.
Reader. A member selected by the president to recite the lines from Browning’s Flight of the Duchess.
Soloist. Sings A Theta Hymn at the appropriate time in the service.
Members, college and alumnae.
Priestess . an alumna. The priestess performs her part from memory.
Candle bearers. The candle bearers hold the candles at each side of the priestess; one holds the glass of water, the other, the glass for ink.
Pages. Six if alternate drinking procedure is used.
Initiation roll book and pen. A black leather-bound manuscript-size book is supplied to new chapters in which to keep a record of initiates.
Subsequent books are to be purchased locally. For each initiation, place date at top of page. Women initiated on this date sign on this page.
Nooks. Two are required, one of black fabric and one of white fabric. Make as follows: seven strips, each three yards long of percale or other heavy, non-transparent cotton, at least thirty-five inches wide. Sew together to make three separate panels. Two are two strips wide for sides of nook, and one is three strips wide for back. These are hung and adjusted to desired width by wires, cords or pipes inserted in top of hems. For floor of nooks, sew together two strips three to four yards long, depending on size of nook desired.
Initiation table. A table, the size to be determined by the number of neophytes being initiated at one time. It should be approximately 30 high x 30 wide (not wider) to enable the president to reach across the table to help neophytes attach their links on the chain. On the table:
Plain black satin covering the table with embroidered cloth in center
Bible (King James version)
Two loving cups filled with bittersweet. These silver loving cups have three handles symbolizing the cup of friendship. The two-handled loving cup is the cup of betrothal.
At least two battery-operated candles (sufficient number for light)
Blank member links . enough for largest initiation group.
Coat of arms banner hung at eye level directly behind the president.
Priestess nook. A platform (at least 6 inches high) for priestess so that she will be above the neophytes. White floor covering to cover entire nook floor and platform. Two cordial glasses, one filled with water, the other holding an eyedropper filled with black water-soluble ink. White satin badge ribbon 2 wide x 18 long attached to the left shoulder of the priestess with her own badge. The first initiate’s badge is at the bottom of the ribbon and the last initiate’s badge is at the top. An extra badge should be included at the top of the ribbon in case one is dropped.
Badges. Badges for initiates may be ordered at any time from Fraternity headquarters. Members may loan their badges for initiates to wear temporarily.
If alternate drinking procedure is used, one silver serving tray per initiate per service, one cordial glass per initiate per service, small disposable cups for members drinking bittersweet. (One-ounce clear plastic condiment cups are recommended.)
Ideals of Gold
Light and Truth
A Theta Hymn
Kappa Alpha Theta National Hymn
President, gold robe with Roman key border
Ritualist, head marshal and song leader, black robe with gold trim
Priestess, white robe with Roman key border
Candle bearers and neophytes, white robe with no trim
Members, black robe with no trim
For many years it was considered necessary to have curtains of black material the length of the room, behind the members of the chapter. Some chapters even have the walls of their chapter rooms painted black. Experience has shown that these black draperies are unnecessary. They are a fire hazard, and certainly add to the stuffiness of the room. Of course, the president should have a background of black and then the long aisle of blackrobed members will be entirely adequate in giving the effect of darkness. No black covering is needed except for the cushions on which the neophytes kneel and on the floor of the black nook. The nook for the priestess must be retained in all its whiteness, its white walls, ceiling and floor, as the contrast between the darkness and the sudden light is one of the most striking and impressive parts of the ceremony.
The entire service is conducted for a group of six and not more than eight, who are then dismissed, while the next group of the same, or smaller size is initiated. Initiation order shall be alphabetical by last name. The initiation service, when possible, should take place on one day.
The room must be dark; it may be necessary to cover windows with black opaque material. The black and white nooks are set up at opposite ends of the room. On the back panel of the black nook, the coat of arms banner is pinned high enough to be easily seen. Before the initiation table place four, six or eight pillows or low stools (depending on the number being initiated at one time) and cover the pillows with black cloth.
Each neophyte signs the initiation roll book just before entering the initiation room.
Theta Whistle from outside implying ready to enter.
Theta Whistle from inside bids enter.
Assistant marshal knocks three times from outside.
Head marshal replies with two knocks from inside.
Assistant marshal replies with one knock.
Head marshal: Ơi coi (pronounced óy-koy, and means ‘at home’ or ‘in the house’).
Assistant marshal: Cairw (pronounced Kígh-row, and means .I accept the greeting.).
Head marshal admits assistant marshals and neophytes.
Members begin singing Welcome Song and continue until neophytes are kneeling and song phrase completed.
Assistant marshals guide neophytes to the initiation table, walking slowly to the music’s meter. At the initiation table, say, sotto voce, Kneel. Each marshal holds elbow of her neophyte to steady her as she kneels. At president’s signal, marshals tell neophytes, sotto voce, to open their eyes.
Marshals stand behind neophytes. Song ends.
Chapter Members: (in unison, led by ritualist) recite the Preamble: In the name of a nobler womanhood, believing that for us, as college women, the fraternity idea holds the possibility of a powerful incentive to social, intellectual, and moral growth and hoping that in the years to come, this idea may be developed to meet the higher and broader demands of mature life, we do solemnly pledge ourselves to Kappa Alpha Theta, the first Greek-letter fraternity known among women.
President: Believing in the true worth and merit of Kappa Alpha Theta and promising to be an earnest, faithful, and enthusiastic worker for its advancement and welfare, you have already pledged yourselves to become members of this fraternity. The time has now come for you to take the final vows. Do you solemnly pledge yourselves never to reveal any of the secrets of this fraternity, in no way communicating any password, sign, or grip, or any of the business of this fraternity? The answer is, ‘I solemnly promise never to reveal any of the secrets of this fraternity’.
Neophytes: I solemnly promise never to reveal any of the secrets of this fraternity.
President, quietly, repeats with them, if necessary, to prevent hesitation and embarrassment.
President: Do you pledge yourselves to befriend each member of this fraternity and to support her in her efforts toward a higher intellectual and moral life? The answer is, I solemnly promise to be a loyal sister to each member of this fraternity.
Neophytes: I solemnly promise to be a loyal sister to each member of this fraternity. President assists as before.
President: Furthermore, do you solemnly promise that to the best of your ability you will strive to live in accordance with the noble ideals of Kappa Alpha Theta? The answer is, ‘I solemnly promise that to the best of my ability I will strive to live in accordance with the noble ideals of Kappa Alpha Theta’.
Neophytes: I solemnly promise that to the best of my ability I will strive to live in accordance with the noble ideals of Kappa Alpha Theta. President assists as before.
Members, in unison: Solemnly we are witnesses. The president moves to the right of the initiation table, and the first marshal brings her neophyte to face the president.
President: By the power vested in me by … Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta, I welcome you into the mystic bonds of our Fraternity, henceforth to be known among us as Sister …, who is goddess of …, (or who stands for …). Wording of these phrases is to be changed by the president so as to best express the significance of the names given.
In token of this I extend the grip, the outward sign of our friendship. President then demonstrates the grip: thumbs parallel, with single pressure of the first finger on wrist. These words are not spoken; silence prevails while the grip is demonstrated.
President, holding neophyte’s hand in the grip: And I, … president’s Greek name, drink with you, … neophyte’s Greek name, the bittersweet, a symbol of the joys and pains of friendship.
President, still giving the candidate the grip, lifts the loving cup in her left hand. The president drinks. The marshal steps from the line and takes in her left hand the handle of the cup to the right of the one held by the president, and puts the neophyte’s left hand on the other handle. (From here on neither marshal nor neophyte removes her hand from the cup.)
The neophyte drinks.
The president passes her handle of the cup and the neophyte’s hand to the ritualist.
Ritualist: I, … Greek name, extend to you the grip and drink with you the bittersweet.
The ritualist drinks. The neophyte drinks. The ritualist passes the neophyte’s hand to the assistant marshal.
Assistant Marshal: I, … Greek name, extend to you the grip and drink with you the bittersweet.
The assistant marshal drinks. The neophyte drinks. The assistant marshal passes her handle of the cup and the neophyte’s hand to the next member who plans to drink.
Each member drinking with the neophyte says: I, … Greek name, extend to you the grip and drink with you the bittersweet.
When drinking has concluded for this neophyte, the assistant marshal returns her to her place at the initiation table. Marshals should be very careful to keep the neophyte’s back to the white nook during the entire black scene.
After giving the first candidate the grip and drinking with her the bittersweet, the president turns to the opposite end of the initiation table and gives the neophyte her name, the grip, and drinks with her, from the second loving cup. The song leader follows takes the place of the ritualist as scripted above.
If concern exists about drinking from a common cup, the following alternate procedure for drinking may be used.
Two loving cups filled with bittersweet should be placed on the table as always, but only the president drinks from them. Ideally, there should be one page (member other than assistant marshal) per initiate, each holding a single tray. (Circumstances such as space and member numbers may dictate fewer pages.) Each tray holds one cordial glass filled with bittersweet for the neophyte and as many small individual cups filled with bittersweet as members drinking with that neophyte. Each neophyte drinks from a clean cordial glass and the members drink from the smaller cups.
The president extends the grip and drinks from the loving cup. A page then steps forward, offering her tray to the neophyte. The assistant marshal quietly directs the neophyte to take the cordial glass and sip the bittersweet. The neophyte holds her glass until she’s finished drinking with members.
The page offers the tray to the assistant marshal and others drinking with the neophyte. There is no change in the grip or words spoken during the drinking.
When all neophytes are again kneeling at the initiation table, chapter sings Ideals of Gold.
President: The colors of our Fraternity are black and gold, the black for secrecy, the gold for true worth. Our flower is the black and gold pansy, the pansy representing thought for others. Our call is (call given from other end of room by head marshal or someone designated by her to give it).
At this point, for better visibility, ritualist and song leader may temporarily hold electric candles at each side of banner.
President, steps toward side of banner, turns so as to see the coat of arms banner, and continues: Our coat of arms symbolizes the fundamental ideals of Kappa Alpha Theta. The shield has three divisions, one for each word of our charge. The upper division bears a chain of links, symbol of love; the second is the fess of ermine, symbol of nobility; and the last division contains a scroll, symbol of learning. On this scroll are the initials of the charge, Mu Phi Gamma, standing for ua¢qhma (pronounced máh-thay-mah), figóthx. (pronounced fee-lów-tahs), geuuaixthx (pronounced geneye-óh-tahs), that is to say, Learning, Love, Nobility. The eagle is known as the king of birds and also as an emblem of the
Turning back to the initiation table, the president picks up the badge and continues: The principal emblem of our Fraternity is in the form of a kite.
Upon a chevron of white on a background of black are the letters, Kappa Alpha Theta. Above these are two stars, and below, in Greek, the date of the founding of the Fraternity, 1870. The kite shape represents aspiration; the gold, worth; the black, secrecy; and the white, purity. The letters, Kappa Alpha Theta, stand for the motto of our Fraternity, ‘cartxría’ (pronounced kar-te-ráy-ah), ‘ade¢opotox’ (pronounced, ah-dáys-poh-tohs), ‘qa¢rsox’ (pronounced, thár-sohs), meaning, perseverance, independence, faith. The twin stars represent light and truth.
Members sing Light and Truth.
President: The aim of our Fraternity is threefold, intellectually, the highest scholarship; socially, the widest influence for good; and the Moral Code is love.
Ritualist lifts the Bible, and reads I Corinthians 13, substituting love for charity throughout the chapter. (At the end of the reading, she returns the Bible to the initiation table.)
President, lifting the end of the chain to which new links will be added: This chain is a true emblem of our Fraternity. The joining of its silver links symbolizes the linking of our hearts in the bonds of sisterhood. On name of chapter’s chain, each member has her own link engraved with her name, a tangible sign of her membership in Kappa Alpha Theta.
In opening her chain tonight opens it, so your links may be added, … name of chapter Chapter manifests her belief in your integrity, and her faith that you will not betray the trust thus bestowed upon you, the trust of keeping sacred the Fraternity’s ideals of noble womanhood. By placing her link on this chain, each woman pledges her allegiance to the ideals of Kappa Alpha Theta. The time has come for you to seal this compact by adding your
links to name of chapter’s chain.
(Picking up a blank link, the president hands it to the woman who places it on the chain with president’s help. President repeats until all links are on chain.)
Reader from far behind neophytes recites the following lines from Browning’s The Flight of the Duchess while links are added to the chain:
Be sure thy daily life,
In its peace or in its strife,
Never shall be unobserved;
We pursue thy whole career,
And hope for it, or doubt, or fear, --
Lo, has thou kept thy path or swerved,
We are beside thee in all thy ways,
With our blame, with our praise,
Our shame to feel, our pride to show,
Glad, angry - but indifferent, no!
Henceforth be loved as heart can love,
Or brain devise, or hand approve!
(If necessary recite it a second time, as reciting should not end until last link on chain but use last two lines only once, at end.)
Arrange for signal to be given as president picks up the last link.
President, closing the chain: Your links, now a part of name of chapter’s chain, are a tangible sign of your membership in Kappa Alpha Theta. The poise which the Greeks of old attained through obedience to the motto .nothing in excess, the pursuit of ideals, and the cultivation of friendship, three things for which our Fraternity stands, are now yours to use in the realization of your own best selves. Throughout your lives, Theta loyalty will strengthen you, Theta love enfold you.
Each marshal steps forward, assists her neophyte to stand, and with her backs into the circle of Thetas. (Confusion can be avoided if it is planned beforehand just where in the circle each one with her neophyte will stand.)
All form Theta chain with marshals assisting the neophytes.
Members sing Chain Chant through twice.
Each marshal guides her neophyte back into a row facing the president and asks her, sotto voce, to close her eyes.
President lifts from the initiation table simultaneously the two candlesticks, turning to the ritualist she gives her one of them, then turning to the song leader, she gives her the other one. Then each of these simultaneously passes a candle to an appointed member standing nearby who carries the lighted candle guiding the way for the marshals and neophytes, and delivers it to the waiting candle bearer. In the white nook stands the priestess on her platform, with a candle bearer standing on the floor, half turned toward the priestess, at each side of her. Each candle bearer holds a candlestick in the hand nearest the priestess, lifting it high so the light falls on the face of the priestess. The candle bearer to the right of the priestess holds in her other hand, hidden in the folds of her robe, the glass with eyedropper of ink; the one on the left of the priestess similarly holds the glass of water.
When all is in readiness, the marshals slowly turn the neophytes to face the priestess, all revolving, as it were, in the same direction, so that with the completion of a half circle, the line of neophytes face the priestess, and the line of marshals stands with backs to the black scene.
Soloist sings A Theta Hymn.
As the song begins, marshals guide the line of neophytes forward to stand in a semi-circle before the priestess. When they have approached as near as she wishes, she indicates stop by a simple gesture of the hand. Marshals instruct neophytes, sotto voce, to open their eyes.
Priestess: You whom we receive tonight into our Fraternity, welcome. You have already proceeded far with our sacred rites. You have taken your vows. You have received your names. You have tasted the bittersweet. Yet before you may be fully admitted to our mystic circle, it is mine to reveal to you that true and inner meaning of the bonds you have just assumed. It is mine to count for you the precious gems in this crown of sisterhood which is henceforth to rest upon your brow. We welcome you, each a sister. This means that hereafter you will be held close to hearts that are beating in sympathy and tenderness for you. It means the loving companionship of those who will trust and cherish you. It means that in your dark hours, when the light of joy has faded, you will be sustained by those who will willingly go down with you into your valley of shadows and aid and comfort you as far as human power can. It means that when you again emerge into the blessed sunlight, these sister hands will still clasp yours, while you mount to life’s high pinnacles of hope and happiness.
It means all this, yes, it means far more. There is another side. As highest light casts deepest shadow, so there is no new happiness without also new responsibility, no receiving without also giving. Thus do I come to the most significant part of my message to you tonight. It is now yours to give kind and thoughtful care to those who will henceforth be dependent upon you. It is now yours to crush back selfish motives and actions for the sake of your sisters. It is yours to bear patiently with the faults and deal fairly with the weaknesses of others. It is yours to learn that pettiness and low aims are nowhere more potent for evil than in the close companionship of a fraternity. It is yours to learn self-sacrifice in small things as well as in great. It is yours, through these new channels of intimacy open to you, to lead others to truer life by your example. For only through the noblest, purest womanhood can we hope to attain truest sisterhood. Candle bearer, at priestess’s left, hands her glass of water.
In my hand I hold a goblet of pure and sparkling water. It is a true symbol of a fraternity. Its particles adhering closely together give it strength to tear down mountains and build up continents. So may we, by uniting our forces, tear down the false and build up the true. As water in its purity is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind, so must we keep pure if we would remain true to our ideals. Candle bearer at priestess’s right holds forward glass
with eyedropper of ink. But let me add one drop of ink to the crystal fluid. See, every atom has become dark and impure. So will your actions, if not becoming true Thetas, taint our whole Fraternity. Returns glasses to candle bearers.
But we believe in you, we trust you, we place in your keeping the precious interests of our Fraternity. It is our earnest hope and prayer that you will prove true to this trust and that you will receive only good from your associations with us. In token of which I place the hostage kiss upon your brow and the emblem of our Fraternity upon your breast.
Marshals guide neophyte before the priestess one at a time.
Priestess takes a badge from the bottom of the ribbon attached to her gown, and places the badge on the neophyte a marshal has guided before her, and then kisses the new Theta on the brow, speaking to her one of the phrases that follow. Phrases for the priestess to choose from in greeting girls; a different phrase for each girl is best. Our love go with thee. Our faith go with thee. Peace, trust, happiness, joy, hope, sympathy, understanding, are other words to use in this phrase.
Then the marshal draws the neophyte back to her place in the semi-circle, and the next marshal guides her neophyte before the priestess. Repeat until each has her badge. The marshals should be careful to always stand back so as not to be between the scene and any neophyte.
When all badges are on and neophytes back in semicircle, marshals tell neophytes, sotto voce, to close their eyes and then lead them from initiation room.
Members: sing Kappa Alpha Theta National Hymn as marshals and neophytes depart.