USC Digital Folklore Archives / Initiations
general
Initiations
Legends

The Legend of Camino Hall

The following informant is a 22 year old student from the University of San Diego. In this account she is describing a legend about one of the buildings on her campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: There is this urban legend that someone, umm… like killed themselves in either the Camino bathroom. Thats like one of the residence halls but you know also where the administration building is. Umm… yeah so apparently, she had gone to class, this was a girl, and she was going through a hard time and she just like went to the bathroom, like in the middle of class. And people were like “what the fuck, why did she not come back” and then they were like “oh she is probably still in the bathroom”. So they went to the bathroom and she was just like hanging from the ceiling. So like it may or may not have happened, most people believe it, but like some don’t.

K: So when did this happen?

S: Like right when the school opened, like around that time, the school was established in 1949

K: How did you hear about it?

S: oh, just people were randomly talking about it when i transferred, like that first semester, and i was just like what the heck why are we talking about this right now. It was the older students telling the new ones, it was very random, and i don’t know if it was to scare us but i was just like “thank you so much for this information, what do you want me to do with it”

K: did they ever say why she killed herself?

S: no one knows why she killed herself

K: What did you take away from this?

S: I was kind of just like taken back, because i had just transferred, and so i was kind of like um so why are you telling me this. but i had not thought about it since they told me, so… yeah, its not something i think about often.

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she launched into this story. As we were in a public space, people overheard the conversation and a few even nodded in agreement, like they were validating what she was saying.

Thoughts:

This is a particularly interesting legend for a couple of reasons. One is that out of my own curiosity I tried to do some research to see if there are more details on the internet and the search came up empty. This by no means insinuates that what she is saying is false, especially because the group of not so subtle eavesdroppers seemed familiar with the legend. But in the age of the digital realm, it seems odd there is no account of it only. The other interesting aspect is how the legend is used now. She explained that the older students tell it to the new students while they orient to the new campus. This seems like a mild form of hazing, in that in order to complete your transformation as a student of USD, you have to get mildly scared by the older students first.

Festival
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A Modern Folk Festival

Context:

The subject is a white gender non-conforming individual from Brooklyn, New York. This interview takes place a couple days after the subject and I attend a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show together. I would describe the experience as a weekly or monthly folk festival. People, usually teenagers and usually members of the LGBT community watch this 80s flop movie while poking fun at the film’s ridiculousness. When I talk to them, the subject identifies as gender non-binary, I ask them about their first time going to Rocky as well as what the experience is like. Their first time going was a different cinema in New York City, where they’re from, they reference the differences between that and the rituals we saw in Los Angeles, showing multiplicity and variation. I find these midnight screenings fascinating as they are interacting with a piece of authored work but turning it into their own folk customs. While each place does similar things, there is always variety.

 

Piece:

“Um, so you’re….um so my first time going, sorry if this is not allowed, but you get really wasted before hand, is the idea. Um you dress as revealing as you want to, which is normally a lot, especially for me. Uh, and I went with a bunch of my friends and the lines pretty long but you get through it and then you write, if you’re a virgin meaning that you’ve never gone before to the show you get a V drawn on your forehead with red lipstick. And uh, so I got a V drawn on my forehead cause I’d never been before and we, and then, they yell a bunch of stuff when you get there like “Welcome to the Ro…” OH! It started out with a dance party, that’s what’s fun, they don’t do that in LA, or atleast at the NuArt, but in New York they start with a dance party so they get everyone up in front and everyone dances together and it’s super fun. They do a bunch of other weird shit at the front, just some fun intro games and stuff. Uh, I don’t remember those, it’s just like them yelling things and being silly and doing really short bits. But then, they have all sit down, and they’re like “Oh if you’re a virgin”, meaning that you’d never been to Rocky Horror before, come to the front. So I went to the front, and they like pick out of the people who go up there, and they choose me, as well as a bunch of other people. And they were like “ok, what you guys are going to do is your best orgasm noises”, this is technically a secret, virgins aren’t supposed to know before they go to Rocky Horror but I’ll let you in on it. Um so, we all did our best orgasm noises, and I won actually, I won Best Orgasm Noise, by like audience participation, like so they like clap for, you know, like the loudest clap, my friends screamed a lot for me, so that’s why I won. And my prize was I got to be in the show, which they also don’t do in LA, but they do in New York. So, so what I got to do is be in the married couple, thats like in the beginning because you know how Brad and Janet are at a wedding. So I got to be uh, I think I choose to be the bride, they let you choose though because Rocky Horror is very queer and genderfluid and its whatever the fuck you want. And my hus… yeah, my groom was this very hot person, uh, so they were like “hi, we’re getting married” and like flirting with me and I was like “I can’t handle this, I’m too fragile and gay”. Um, but yeah, I got to be  the bride to their groom and we went up there and I through my bouquet and Janet caught it and uh that was my bit and then I got to sit in the audience. And, uh, then Rocky Horror ensues, which is just like, do you want me to describe it? Ok, so it’s this really shitty movie from the 80s that’s really out there and wild. Uh, and basically how they do it now is they do it live and they like a shadow cast perform the same thing they’ll perform the same thing thats happening onstage [I think they mean onscreen] but like sillier with jokes and more ridiculous and usually very queer. Like the person playing Brad was a…. woman, the person, as far as I could tell, was a woman, the person playing Rocky was a woman, Frankenfurter was a woman. It’s very cool and exciting , very sexual. Um, so I can only remember LA’s calls and responses, but youre, whenever Brad introduces himself on screen you’re supposed to yell “Asshole” and whenever Janet introduces herself on screen, you’re supposed to yell “Slut”. Um, you’re also supposed to make fun off, there’s this one guy who shows up sometimes in between and he has no neck so people will just shout at him about how he has no neck, um. Some more fun call and responses, uuuhhm, badibaba, I’m having difficulty remembering. There’s these people who walk p and down the aisles, I think they’re tech slash security, and they’ll yell things like “Oh Rocky show us how you masturbate” and like on screen Rocky, just like in the movie, not knowing people have said this in real life, will go like. He’ll shake his arm or something. [They demonstrate a arm-shaking movement] Um, just fun stuff like that. You’re also supposes to call out when people start stripping onstage or having sex. The lips! You’re always supposed to go like “ow ow” at like you know, cause you know in the movie is just lips talking, but in the live version, I mean the shadow cast, they’ll have like a dancer which is really fun. Uuuum, yeah it’s stripping, yeah I’d call it burlesque, usually what goes down. It’s a passed on tradition, they people that go the most they’re like dedicated fans and those who go only once in a while, they enjoy what the dedicated fans are doing.

 

Game
Humor
Initiations

Paranoia

Main Piece

“So Paranoia [the game] is when you get a bunch of friends and sit in a circle. You whisper in their ear a question, usually about someone in the room, you say your answer out loud [name of person] and then you flip a coin, if it lands heads up, you have to reveal the question.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Los Angeles

Language: English

The informant learned the game from the internet and other people who she played it with. The informant loves playing the game because through it, you can learn about your friends. The game can be, according to the informant, “wholesome or not wholesome,” in terms of the information discussed.

Context

The game can be played while drinking but is usually be played without drinking. It is not a drinking game.

Notes

I find the use of games as a form of group identity building to be incredibly interesting. People can either be honest and potentially risk an awkward moment or give a fake answer, but the two options have vastly different implications in terms of what the group might think of them and how the participant in the game chooses to present themself.

 

Game
Humor
Initiations

Overtly Sexual Theater Tradition at a Catholic School

Main Piece

It’s only done at shows, after we do this whole energy circle and this prayer because its catholic school. Then, whoever’s in charge says “practice room, practice room, etc” to whoever is relevant, which we use as one of the dressing rooms, it’s in the hallway. The two people who are the presidents of the musical or whatever, or whoever is willing to do it goes like, everyone take two fingers, and place them on your nipples! [Over one’s clothes] And rub and hum! And then you go, “louder” and then you go “louder” and then you go “scream!” and then you go “have a good show everyone” and someone turns the lights on [the lights are turned off during this ritual] and then everyone runs out.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island

Language: English

The informant learned the tradition from other students, and it has been going since at least 2013, but likely much longer. The informant laughed a lot while telling me this tradition, so it seems to be lighthearted with the intention of being fun. However, the informant did say that it was quite weird. Most often included in the tradition are those who would be considered “popular.”

Context

The informant attended a coeducational Catholic high school where this practice took place.

Notes

This tradition is an example of high schoolers being overtly sexual and although it is seemingly harmless, it also seems very odd and potentially uncomfortable given the potential age gap between Seniors and Freshmen. That said, traditions like this seem to be very common amongst theater groups. I am curious as to the exact reason behind this phenomena.

 

Customs
general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Song/Initiation

I asked a fellow classmate if she had any songs that she knew of as a tradition in any parts of her life. She told me about a song that one had to learn in order to be initiated onto the theatre team at her high school. It was a variation of the song Lean on Me, with added words that acted as puns for each line end, they would do this before every show, and you had to know the song if you wanted to be in the show.

 

Greer said that the song went, “Lean on me (yeah)

When you’re not strong (weak)

And I’ll be your friend (high five) 

I’ll help you carry on 

for (five)

It won’t be long (short)

Til I’m gonna need (elbow)

Somebody to lean on”

 

Background Info: This short variation of Lean on Me was something that Greer had to learn to become initiated into her theatre program, and something that she had to teach grades below her. This was a comforting song that they sang before shows to cool their nerves and recognize that they all had each other’s backs during the show.

 

Context: I learned about this tradition while at coffee with Greer, we both shared stories about certain traditions, and songs that we were familiar with or were a part of throughout our lives.

 

Analysis: I thought this was interesting because it was both a song and a type of initiation. I think them adding small chants at the end of each line as puns brought people together in a fun way, and she said it was something that she looked forward to in each show. I personally don’t have any type of song or tradition similar to this so I thought it was very cool.

 

Adulthood
Customs
general
Initiations
Life cycle

Jewelry as part of initiation

When talking to one of my roommates Braxton, I asked if he had any sort of initiation type things associated with his family.

 

Braxton said that, “Every man in my family on my dad’s side, including me and my brother, when they turn 16 get a necklace that has our family crest and a Swan on it.” (Pictured Below)

 

 

Background Info: Braxton is originally from Pittsburgh and now lives in Los Angeles. I always see him wearing this and never knew what it was, but Braxton made it clear to me that when a man in the family received this necklace he was “initiated” into the manhood club in the Swann family tree. It is something that goes back in many generations.

 

Context: I asked Braxton about this while talking to our class in a conversation about family initiations.

 

Analysis: I think this is a very cool way to integrate a sense of initiation and belonging to a group in a family, Braxton knew that he was going to get this necklace when he turned 16 so he had something to look forward to. I think I want to integrate something similar in my family and be the one to start it because I love this idea.Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 3.05.24 PM

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Initiations

Family/Life Cycle Tradition

 

I asked one of my roommates Kyle if there was anything that he could think of in the theme of things being passed down in his family. He immediately mentioned something that has been going on in his family for a long time

 

Kyle said that, “The oldest living male in the family gets my great-great grandfather’s gold pocket watch. When the person who has it passes away, the next male gets it. My grandpa has it right now, so when he dies my father will get it, and when he dies I will get the pocket watch. Its something that will continue to be a tradition in my family”

 

 

Background Info: Kyle said that this is a tradition started by his great-great grandfather who wanted to keep something special going along the life cycle of the male generations of the Messinger family. It is a small gold pocket watch that his great-great grandfather would always carry around since he was a child. Kyle thinks this is a very special tradition in his family and knows how important it is to keep the legacy going when it comes his time to own the watch.

 

Context: Kyle told me about this during dinner at our fraternity house.

 

Analysis: I think this is a very cool tradition in Kyle’s family. It reminds me of something that is done on my Mom’s side of the family—similar thing except it is a necklace that my grandmother wears that was given to her by her mother. I think having a family life cycle type tradition like this is very important to have.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hazing

 Main Piece: So in the wrestling team we also did kinda have like another ritual. I mean it was kinda hazing but everyone had to do it or else they wouldn’t really be considered part of the team. It wasn’t like harassment or anything (he said this with a joking tone and giggling at the same time). Well after… each year after tryouts whoever made the team would have to get the old singlets from like people who had been in the team and wear them for an entire day. It’s like a tradition we have… well more like an initiation. For us it symbolized like following in the footsteps of more senior teammates. I am pretty sure though it is also for fun. Context:  I arranged with Bryan at a Starbucks. It was pretty loud and their seemed to be a business meeting a few tables away. Bryan was talking loudly so I could hear. Background: Bryan was born in Guatemala but came to the Unites States when he was a baby. He was raised in a predominately Hispanic community. He is currently attending California State Long Beach where he is studying Philosophy.  Analysis: In Bryan example of hazing, we can see a type of folk ritual called initiation. Before any person is accepted to the team, the need to be initiated by symbolic tradition. It is very similar to other types of initiations in which a person must pledge themselves by doing some kind of an embarrassing act. For example, this ritual is similar to sororities initiations that allow them to be part of their group.             

Initiations

Kumbhabhishekam

  1. The main piece: Maha Rajagopuram Kumbhabhishekam

“So this happens once in twelve years. It’s a consecration ceremony that is done by uttering weighted hymns to evoke the entity of the supreme God…to…bless the… the temple. So we were there for that ceremony. It’s a five day long ceremony. It has five days of chanting, some Vedic hymns, uh…that invoke the supreme God, you know, to…energize the holy water. Which is then poured over the temple in a…in a ceremony called Kumbhabhishekam. That’s the ceremony.

“And since it’s a once in a twelve year ceremony at the temple, and the chanting of the hymns is special, you know. It’s not normal. There were 30 priests visiting our local temple from all across the globe. It’s a consecration ceremony for the temple, the deities—the temple. So every twelve years we do that. So it happened, we went there to witness it and be blessed…you know. Yeah. The belief is that, uh, attending such ceremonies gives you the, the positive energy, you know, comes to devotees as blessings. That’s the belief.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“Our temple here in the US has never had one before. Back in India, I had never been to one, either. This is very sacred and will bestow fortune on those who attend. It’s a key Hindu religious ceremony that not many people get the opportunity to witness. Our temple sent out fliers to remind and call us.

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

This temple ritual is rare and not all Hindus experience it or have the chance to attend a similar ritual. Having sacred and rare rituals like this once in twelve year event increases the amount that community members value such traditions. Thus, when such sacred rituals do occur, a large portion of the community members attend and are united in their religion and as a community.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American male, who grew up in an urban setting in India with three siblings. While he moved to the United States over 30 years ago from India, many of his family members still live there, and he enjoys maintaining his links with them through his heritage and Hindu religion.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Iranian Weddings

  1. The main piece: Iranian Weddings

“So there’s multiple ceremonies. So once the man asks for permission from the to-be bride’s dad, there’s a mini celebration just between the intimate family members. And then, following that, there’s kinda an engagement party. So kinda similar to Nowruz, there’s different items that are symbolic. Like honey: both the groom and bride dip their fingers into honey. That’s symbolic of life being sweet, fruitful.

“Following that is the actual wedding. That’s usually a big production. There’s this special veil thing, kinda like this really long lacy scarf thing. Both the bride and groom walk under it and it symbolizes them starting a new life together. Walking under that is like your rite of passage into adulthood and married life. They’re not as religious. I think there’s a religious one and a normal one. Like my parents got married in a park, by a lake or something.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?

“Um… well, I’ve never actually been to an Iranian wedding. But I’ve been to prewedding ceremonies. I always saw them growing up and heard about my parents’ park wedding, and I had this grand image of me when I was a grown up, walking under the long white scarf with my future husband. I think it’s an adulthood kinda thing just because they used to get married so young there.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

I think that it is interesting that there are so many ceremonies involved, with different levels of guests invited. The number of events and variety of guests at each show what a big transition marriage is, from the merging of two families to a large community event. The emphasis of general Persian traditions over religious customs in these weddings is unusual, as most weddings tend to have a religious component. This shows that the role of the community is the highest, higher than any God, in this coming-of-age, rite-of-passage style ceremony. It also shows that the Iranian culture has adapted to view religion less and shared heritage and community more as religious heterogeneity increases. Moreover, symbolism is shown to play a large role again in such community, transitional life events, in order to cast protective and good omens before entering the next stage of life.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is an 18-year old Iranian-Canadian female. She was born in Iran but moved to Canada as a young child, then moved again to southern California as a teenager. Learning about her parents’ Iranian culture helped her feel a sense of continuity throughout the different moving experiences she had. They also helped her feel more rooted and attached to her place of birth.

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