Traditions and Rituals and Customs
“A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.”
My simple matter-of-fact belief is that our Omega Mu traditions, rites, and rituals must be revered and cherished because they play a salutary role, as we all know, in our history as we approach the 120th anniversary of our founding. Above all, rituals and traditions provide sustaining clarity and power to who we are, and who we have been for 120 years. There are many who would say that rituals, traditions and customs are unnecessary dogma, but that is okay because we do not require the validation of hardened skeptics; secondly, these folks, the “centerless many,” to use Buber’s fitting phrase, do not understand that dogma derives from its Greek root, dokein, and it means “good or fitting.” Yes, dogma is a good word. Dogma, as opposed to dogmatism, does not seek to create a jackbooted “desert of uniformity” where everyone is mindless, soul-deadened, and emotionally straight-jacketed. Quite simply, it does not mean blind adherence; on the contrary, the heart and breath of fraternal dogma is wisdom and discipline, and they help you learn how to live fraternally well. Seldom, however, do fraternities continue to thrive without customs, traditions, and rituals. At their best, our rituals, customs, and traditions undergird and affirm what is good, ennobling, and bonding, collectively and individually, across the time and space of life. That is the mystically permanent truth of Omega Mu fraternity life; they provide a durable continuity of historical sense during our undergraduate and graduate years. We may not understand the basis or reason of all of our fraternal traditions, and perhaps we do not need to understand, but it is infinitely childish and immature simply to discard them because you do not understand them, or that they are old. To that I unequivocally say, “No!” In a very real sense, they make us better human beings, better brothers, and a better chapter house. Now the question is: without brotherly traditions, customs, and rituals, what is a fraternity? A fraternity without them is living with a cancer that will kill, and it will. Hence, our traditions provide ultimate historic coherence with our Q.T.V brothers in 1874 and with Phi Gamma Delta in 1899. No, there can be no take-me-or-leave me attitude with the very things that have carried us this far. The discipline of ritual memory and practice is not a burden, it is a rewarding, sustaining joy, and you fraternally grow and prosper with them.
Altering traditions does affect the quality of life in The Castle. Consequently, our fraternal culture must never be lured into the culturally killing waters that asserts that rituals, graces, traditions, and customs should be altered, or even discarded with open contempt due to the chilling, capricious wind of changing fashion, political correctness, or laziness of effort. Yes, our traditions and rituals must not alter with time, and they must be embraced, and not merely passively accepted as a cumbersome burden. Milerepa said it best: “…never be content with partial practice.” Clearly, our customs and traditions are the bread-and-butter that give us zeal and strength in who we are as Omega Mu Fijis, and they establish a durable good of well-being within and beyond The Castle. As a side note, I do not apologize for capitalizing the definite article “The” before Castle; there is only one at the University of Maine.
Though many of us are grey and grizzled now, becoming an Omega Mu Fiji was a decisive event our life, and it was the events, rites, rituals, traditions, and customs that we embraced that made our lived fraternal life deeply satisfying, exactly and powerfully, with the widest pleasure and joy. We would not have it otherwise, nor would we ask for anything else. Looking back, we all lived happily within these rituals and traditions, and we still do when we come back for Pig Dinner. Our pragmatic willingness to not compromise on these principles, practices, and traditions is, in a significant way, why we have survived for 120 years. I welcome the prospect that all future brothers will have the same level of committed fraternal civility and devotion to our storied rituals and practices because they make our Omega Mu life meaningful and rewarding for life. Living in The Castle was fruitful in every way. The writer of Psalm 133 understood our fraternal point of unity when he wrote: “How good and pleasant it is, when people live in unity.” A great grace.
Although the social, civil, and religious plate tectonics of society change capriciously, we stand proudly apart, and our uplifting and unifying traditions must never diminish. They help us maintain our eminent historical sense of brotherhood to avoid the soulless wreckage that is occurring to established traditions and rituals in other places, and that is not an overstatement. Then and now, and into our next 120 years, our rituals and traditions need to continue during our shared meals each day, during chapter meetings, Pig Dinner, Greek Week, our social service commitments, Christmas traditions, Fiji Island, intramural team participation, our fun times with each other on the front lawn, in the basement, on the Phoenix Lounge, in the RAM; our simple daily duties around the house, and on campus. These shared fraternal events magnify, singly and collectively, the ultimate good of what it means to be an Omega Mu brother rather than living in the solitary confinement of a stockyard dorm room. We will continue to believe, against much of the prevailing social current, that fraternal life is significantly good and important, in mind and spirit, in helping young men live together with purpose and responsibility, peaceably and enjoyably during their college years. The hard-headed historic logic of our 120 years of existence proves that we do know what we are doing. We shall continue to be different, eminently different, as we have since 1899. Omega Mu, indeed!
The simple fact is that Omega Mu life is inescapably communal. Our traditions and rituals ground us and call us forward. As I consider the now discontinued, sadly so, title of the University of Maine yearbook, “The Prism,” a prism is the best metaphor in describing our historically time-cemented traditions that bind our fraternal brotherhood from generation-to-generation in fluid historical continuity. Rituals and traditions provide historic symmetry, order, structure, and meaning, and it is all too human that we forget these binding traditions and rituals because of the twist, turns, and blind alleys of time.
The awesome truth is that our stately and gracious riverbank home, The Castle, has been, in substance and reality, in energy and imagination, a cup that runneth over with enthusiastic traditions that established our long-standing fraternal sense. I have been truly moved by our various traditional-ritual scenes, time after time. They exhibit love, loyalty, commitment to word, thought, and action. We certainly know and live by that famous inscription on the Temple of Apollo: “Know Thyself.” Whether it be inside or outside The Castle, we must maintain a clear historical continuity with our rituals and traditions, and not simply make compromises in order to be cool and up-to-date with the present. Our historical practices are the renewing blood in the affairs of our daily, seasonal, and yearly life, and they carry us forward as the oldest fraternity in existence at the University of Maine.
Through the early 1960’s, the Omega Mu housemother was escorted into the dinning commons by the president of the house. When she entered the dinning commons, the brothers, dressed in coat and tie, were standing, and then they would all sing The Doxology together. A beautiful image, from my way of thinking. A little more piquant is the dinner tradition of some brother reading, with unbridled rhetorical gusto, a limerick or two from the limerick book. The second tradition was to eat the delta of the piece last, and to take the piece of pie from a brother if he did so, and there was never any complaining if you lost your slice of pie, just natural consequences. Another tradition was functional: you did your house job each week, and if you failed to do so the gig master would get on your ass to do it in a not so no-nonsense way. It had to be like this, and no other way because The Castle needed to be taken care of, and we all embraced the discipline and responsibility of maintaining The Castle, and it was not a troublesome matter. It was a fundamental fraternal task because we wanted the house to be a clean, well-kept, attractive place to live. It was that simple; therefore, we could not be lazy, passive, or self-indulgent with these communal obligations.
In addition, there were brothers who knew the practical engineering and structural needs of the house, and they kept us informed of them. For many years, there were rules and laws in the house that brothers had to adhere to, or they would be fined, and they would pay the fine in your next subsequent house bill, without fail! With an expansive view of rituals and traditions, because they vary from generation-to-generation, simply being together around the house was the most important for each of us, and after nightfall many antic events and hilarious rituals occurred in the RAM. And, of course, the two most important rituals are initiation and chapter meetings. Our entire fraternal history rests upon those ideals which started with our QTV brothers, and to them we must fraternally cling: loyalty, commitment, resilience, love, grace, and joy.
As we consider our historical mission and identity as we approach our 120 years of existence, traditions signal continuity with the past as we prepare for each new generation of men who wish to gather together under the historic roof of The Castle. It is a remarkable return in human investment that lasts beyond college years. The truth is self-evident: rituals and traditions are the deepest, truest, and ultimate example of our Omega Mu brotherhood. Put quite simply, historical continuity, traditions, and rituals touch me immensely, and I know they mean something to each of you. They are the strong message of a lived expression of shared beliefs that sustains us through historical time, and may we continue to grow in appreciation of them. Organizations often return to their founding principles when their identity stagnates or fragments in a disorienting manner. We never left them, and; thankfully, with our sustained rituals and traditions, there is no prospect of our Omega My brotherhood ever ending. There is fraternal meaning, fraternal truth, fraternal joy, and fraternal love in custom, ritual, and tradition, always.
It is generally held, unfortunately, by many critics that fraternities are historical anachronisms that need to be placed in the geological detritus of human history. It is almost a popular assault grounded in misguided and misinformed feelings. We are unfashionable. This is too bad, but I would argue the dialectic opposite as to how and why fraternal life, with our traditions and rituals, are essential for the development of good character, by-in-large, and it certainly has a more effective case for existence than dormitory life. The mutual reinforcing variables of day-to-day responsibilities, and the grounding measure of rituals, with their respective images and feelings, sacred and otherwise, creates the best of what we call fraternal community. As we are historically time-rooted on the University of Maine campus, we are going to continue to provide a life-enhancing fraternal experience that is enjoyable, challenging, and life-changing. That is not an evanescent dream; it is a solid, substantial, salutary truth, and our linked fraternal circumference is only going to grow into the future. As Nietzsche so beautifully stated: “Their vision of the past turns them toward the future.”
Chip Chapman, ‘82
Leave a Reply.