The World Scout Emblem

The Scout emblem which has been worn by an estimated 250 million Scouts since the Movement was founded and is today still used by 16 million Scouts in 150 countries and territories, is one of the world's best known symbols. But Scouts and members of the public often ask how the emblem originated.

Lord Baden-Powell himself gave the answer, "Our badge we took from the 'North Point' used on maps for orienteering them with North". Lady Baden-Powell said later, "It shows the true way to go."

So, the emblem helps to remind Scouts to be as true and reliable as a compass in keeping to their Scouting ideals and showing others the way.

In Scouting, we take the three tips of the emblem to represent the three main points of the Scout Promise. The two decorative five-pointed stars are taken in some countries to stand for truth and knowledge.

In the World Scout Emblem, the basic motif is encircled by a rope tied with a reef or square knot symbolizing the unity and brotherhood of the Movement throughout the world. Even as one cannot undo a reef knot no matter how hard one pulls on it so, as it expands, the Movement remains united.

The colour of the World Scout Badge is a white on a royal purple background. These, too, are symbolic. In heraldry white represents purity and royal purple denotes leadership and helping other people.

History of the Design

The basic design was in use for centuries before it came to indicate North on a compass. The Chinese are known to have used it as a direction symbol as early as 2000BC. The Larousse Encyclopedia notes that some Etruscan bronzes and Roman ornaments carried the design, and it has been found on ancient monuments in Egypt and India.

Its use as a navigation aid in Europe probably dates from the end of the 13th Century when Marco Polo brought back a compass from Cathay. The Grand Encyclopedia credits an Italian marine pilot, Flavio Gioja of Amalfi, for drawing it as a North Point on a primitive compass he built.

The Encyclopedia Britannica gives another interesting version of the origin of the design. This is that it derives from the "Wind Rose" which is much older than the magnetic compass and first appeared on the charts of Mediterranean sea pilots. The eight main wind directions were shown by Greek letters and the North Wind marked "T" for Tramontana. In time, the "T" was embellished or combined with an arrowhead so that it was no longer recognisable as "T".

The design is much used elsewhere. It appears in ornate versions on heraldic coats of arms, and in many decorative designs. Sometimes it is meant to represent a lance or spearhead, a lily (Fleur de Lys) and even a bee or a toad.

So, today, as the symbol continues to point the way for navigators so, all over the world, it points the way to service and brotherhood for all members of the Scout Movement.

From SCOUT FACTS, World Scout Bureau, World Organization of the Scout Movement, June, 1985

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Copyright Lewis P. Orans, 1996
Last Modified: 8:13 PM on 11-23-96