The most important of emblems, symbolical figures designed to represent an abstract idea as well as a collectivity, needs not to be demonstrated. The potent cross, called the Cross of Jerusalem, is incorporated in emblems as symbolic of the Cross of Christ, and the Scout lily derives from the royal fleur-de-lys.
Many are familiar with the potent cross of Jerusalem, the Greek letter Tau four times. The cross Christ died upon was described by Tertullien in the third century as a “T,” or Greek Tau. In some ancient reproductions of crucifixion, the tau is shown, rather than the Latin cross. This emblem is found for the first time coupled with the signature of Baudouin, Christian king of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, founded in 1099 at the close of the First Crusade.
This cross is used by numerous Catholic Scout associations throughout the world. It is usually red and, in a way, the international emblem of Catholic Scouting. The four tau point toward the north, the south, the east and west, to symbolize the universality of Christ.
The lily, or fleur-de-lys, is a plant of the litiaceae genus, with white, sweet smelling flowers. It is also a heraldic charge, the emblem of French royalty. Authors are not all in agreement concerning the origin of the royal lily. We believe that a reasonable explanation is found in the Frankish hooked javelin, or lance, which consisted of a central point with a bent-back crook at each side.
It was Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, who, around 1909, chose the lily as the international emblem of Scouting. Already before 1900, the English cavalry scouts wore a lily on their uniform. The lily had been used for a long time on compasses and charts to indicate the direction North. This had been done ever since the first marine chart was made in homage of the Valois, then reigning in Naples.
The lily is the emblem of international Scouting; each of the many Scout associations design the lily according to their own criterium. The lily reminds Scouts of the three parts of their promise: God, Country, and the Scout Law (Rule), as well as the three basic virtues of Scouting: frankness, devotion, purity. Often each of the lateral branches of the lily have, in perforation, a five-pointed star representing the ten articles of the Scout Law (Rule).
Before World War II in 1940, the Scouts of France did not have a lily at the center of their potent cross, but a clover (shamrock), like their sister association, the Guides of France. This was because the Action Francaise of Maurras used the lily as a political emblem. After the war, the Scouts of France, then the Scouts Unitaires of France, carried a very stylized lily on their potent crosses.
Readers interested to learn more about the symbols of Scouting should obtain a copy of Scouting 'Round the World published by World Organization of the Scout Movement. The book contains information in English on each national Scout organization to include emblems and key facts.